Terps set to delve into road lessons

No. 17 Maryland takes 5-game winning streak to No. 19 Wake for ACC test

January 15, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Now that the Maryland Terrapins are feeling pretty good about themselves, sporting a five-game winning streak fueled by excellent defense and emerging depth, coach Gary Williams is glad the next phase of their education is at hand.

It's probably too early to call tonight's game at No. 19 Wake Forest a pivotal test for the defending national champions, but the 17th-ranked Terps should learn a critical thing or two about their squad.

Maryland (9-3, 2-0) is telling itself not to peek ahead to Saturday's much-anticipated confrontation at home against top-ranked, unbeaten, archrival Duke. In addition, if the Terps wish to defend their regular-season league title successfully, they have to survive on the treacherous road in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

So far, only one road victory has been recorded in the young season - a 69-48 victory by North Carolina at Florida State last month. And Maryland, fresh off its 27-point demolition of Florida State at Comcast Center on Saturday that gave it a school-record 14 consecutive ACC regular-season wins, has not been away from home since losing in overtime to Indiana on Dec. 3.

"The biggest thing on the road is everything you do has to come from your team. Nobody is going to help you. Hopefully, we remember some of the things from the Indianapolis crowd," said Williams, who has tried to guide his team back to earth after its impressive ACC start.

"You just tell them [they won] their second ACC game, but we haven't played on the road yet. Don't get too carried away," he added. "You build things this time of the year."

Maryland is a team under construction, and the pieces are falling into place. With a rotation that has grown to 10 players, the Terps are leading the league in assists, steals, blocked shots and field-goal percentage defense - which, at .353, ranks fifth nationally.

The Terps are forcing 19 turnovers a game and allowing only 63.4 points, second in the conference. They are rebounding better, getting to the foul line more consistently, have the ACC's most experienced point guard in senior Steve Blake and the league's leading scorer in senior guard Drew Nicholas. Only Duke is scoring more points than Maryland (84.1 ppg).

Still, tonight feels like a new beginning. Maryland has yet to beat a team currently ranked, and the Terps must walk into Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and tangle with a young, talented team led by senior Player of the Year candidate Josh Howard (15.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg).

Wake Forest (10-1, 0-1), boasting the league's top rebounding team with Howard and the frontcourt of sophomore power forward Vytas Danelius and freshman center Eric Williams combining to average 22.5 rebounds per game, expects to challenge for the ACC crown. The Demon Deacons also are coming off a 74-55 drubbing by Duke. On the road.

"We're starting to figure things out now. I think we're all mentally prepared, coming to play each game," said Nicholas, who is averaging a league-high 18.6 points per game. "We weren't sure how the young guys would respond. Right now, we all have confidence in each other.

"The ACC is a different story, and Wake is definitely going to be a big test. We're on the road. It's just us. Here, you kind of feel pressure to play well in front of your home fans. On the road, you're a little tighter with your team."

As for the hostile environment he expects to encounter in his first road ACC experience, Terps freshman guard Chris McCray said: "I think I'm in for a rude awakening."

Maryland, which has won seven straight against the Demon Deacons and has beaten them by a combined 38 points in its past two games in Winston-Salem, aims to provide rude treatment for a Wake team that is missing a key part. Freshman point guard Justin Gray, who had started all but one game before suffering a fractured jaw at Duke, is out for about two weeks.

That puts the brunt of the ball-handling pressure on sophomore Taron Downey, and it could thrust Howard into that role at times. Look for the Terps to probe that perceived weakness with doses of defensive pressure.

Terps tonight

Matchup: No. 17 Maryland (9-3) vs. No. 19 Wake Forest (10-1)

Site: Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Time: 9

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

Line: Wake Forest by 2

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