Terps face new, improved Florida State

Hamilton's 9-3 Seminoles thinking of NCAA return

College Basketball

January 11, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - In recent years, with dates looming against Atlantic Coast Conference stalwarts such as Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina, the Maryland Terrapins usually knew they had too much for the Florida State Seminoles to handle.

This time around, as they resume the ACC grind, so much has changed for No. 21 Maryland. For the first time in 22 years, the Terps are defending a conference title. For the first time ever, they are defending a national championship. The target they are toting has never been larger.

And for the first time since some of the current Terps (8-3, 1-0) were in grade school, the Seminoles look nothing like pushovers. Under new coach Leonard Hamilton, Florida State (9-3, 0-1) wears the look of a squad that will not accept mediocrity. It has been five years since Florida State went to the NCAA tournament or had a winning season.

"They are more confident now," Maryland senior forward Tahj Holden said of the Seminoles, who invade Comcast Center for the first time today. "They go out knowing they can win games, instead of hoping they can win."

Although they have beaten the Seminoles in 13 of their past 15 meetings - with one of the losses at Cole Field House on Feb. 14, 2001, marking the last time Maryland has lost at home to a league opponent - the Terps have their guard way up today.

Florida State already has recorded impressive victories over Iowa and Miami, where Hamilton coached from 1990 to 2000, before spending a year running the Washington Wizards, taking a year off, then replacing Steve Robinson in Tallahassee.

The Seminoles are riding a veteran frontcourt, led by forwards Anthony Richardson and Michael Joiner, and a new backcourt of junior-college transfers, led by Tim Pickett. He ranks fifth in the ACC in scoring (18.3 ppg), leads the league in steals (3.5) and has scored in double figures in every game.

The Seminoles, who have dropped a one-point decision to No. 11 Florida, also are stopping people in ways that typify a Hamilton team. Florida State is allowing just 61.7 points a game, thanks to the nation's second-ranked field-goal percentage defense (.352). The Terps, by the way, are closely behind with a .354 mark. In addition, the closest ACC team to Maryland in average steals (12.4) is Florida State (10.8).

In other words, expect a scrum as much as a basketball game to break out today, with two teams fighting for control of the tempo. The Terps want to run as much as possible.

"I figured they'd play good defense and be aggressive, and they are," Maryland coach Gary Williams said, with a nod toward Hamilton. "They play with a lot more individual ability. Each guy is looking for his shot. They're deep enough, big enough and athletic enough to be a good basketball team."

Containing Pickett, formerly of Indian River Community College in Daytona Beach, Fla., will be a high priority for Maryland. Pickett, who also leads the Seminoles in rebounding (6.8), is averaging nearly 17 shots per game, and he will take them from anywhere.

"On the inbounds pass, you've got to get a hand up on him," Williams said. "He can go way out. I've got about eight guys volunteering to be Pickett [on the scout team] in practice."

The Terps - who travel to No. 17 Wake Forest on Wednesday, return home to face arch-rival and top-ranked Duke on Saturday, then go to North Carolina four days later - are happy to resume the long march through the conference schedule. The past four weeks has included a four-game winning streak and endless practice time.

Maryland now gets to test out its new look against the big boys. Since last month, freshman forwards Nik Caner-Medley and Travis Garrison have assumed starting roles, marking the first time the Terps have started two first-year players regularly since the Joe Smith-Keith Booth team in 1993-94.

Anchored in the middle is senior center Ryan Randle, who is fresh off his third double double of the year in Wednesday's 108-58 rout of Hampton.

The most notable changes during the winning streak have been the emergence of junior forward Jamar Smith and the resurgence of Holden, who has come off the bench the past three games. Holden has averaged nine points, made four of seven three-point attempts and played better defense since making the switch.

Smith, who missed two days of practice this week due to the death of his grandfather, came back to torch Hampton for a career-high 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting and looks like the team's most improved player.

"Everybody in this locker room knows how good Jamar can be," guard Drew Nicholas said.

Terps today

Matchup:No. 21 Maryland (8-3) vs. Florida State (9-3)

Site:Comcast Center, College Park

Time:1:30 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

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