Terps hoping for new road in Carolina

Fortified by beating Duke, No. 12 Maryland looks for U-turn from loss at Wake

Nicholas: `This is our next test'

Heels' talented freshmen latest bump on ACC path

College Basketball

January 22, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Let's try this again.

Now that the Maryland Terrapins have earned the type of victory that breeds long-term confidence, now that the No. 12 Terps have disposed of the top-ranked team in the country and enjoyed a few sighs of satisfaction, they must gather themselves to confront the next barrier.

They must try to keep the positive vibes rolling with a win on the road in the danger zone known as the Atlantic Coast Conference, where only three road victories have been recorded in 17 league games this season.

In what could be a telling week regarding Maryland's development, the Terps face that task twice this week, beginning with tonight's visit to the Dean Smith Center to face North Carolina. Maryland then plays Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum on Saturday.

Four days after dropping Duke convincingly at Comcast Center, the Terps (10-4, 3-1) are more self-assured. They would like nothing more than to make things right after their initial stumble away from home a week ago against Wake Forest.

There, the Terps looked shell-shocked early, got pounded on the boards, fell behind by 17 points early in the second half, played about 10 minutes of inspired basketball while cutting the deficit to two points, then faded in the closing minutes of an 81-72 loss.

"This is our next test, to get a road win," said Maryland senior guard Drew Nicholas, who is coming off a 24-point effort against Duke and leads the Terps with a scoring average of 18.3 points per game. "I'm not going to put too much on our young guys. Some of us older guys didn't play too well at Wake. We have to be more mature about [playing on the road] and come ready to play."

Added coach Gary Williams: "We have to go on the road and play like we played against Duke without the use of the home crowd. We don't have to do anything great. Just play to our level."

If the Terps attack the glass, work the ball inside and chase loose balls relentlessly as they did against Duke on Saturday, they like their chances in Chapel Hill, especially with freshman center Sean May out for at least another month with a broken foot from late December.

Even with May missing after an outstanding 10-game start, the revival is going strong at Carolina (11-5, 2-1), where last season's 8-20 disaster is a distant memory.

This year's edition belongs to a core of talented underclassmen, led by freshman guard/forward Rashad McCants, who leads the ACC in scoring (19.0 ppg), field goals (107) and attempts (200). Freshman point guard Raymond Felton (10.5 ppg, 6.8 apg) augments the cast along with sophomore forward Jawad Williams (13.7 ppg).

The Tar Heels, showing the inconsistency of a youthful squad, have clicked enough to win the Preseason NIT with victories over Kansas and Stanford and to knock off then-No. 6 Connecticut on Saturday. Carolina also has lost to Iona, gotten whipped by Kentucky and Illinois and has slipped by Clemson at home.

Several things loom large in the minds of Maryland tonight.

Prevent McCants, who is shooting 53.5 percent, from going off early. Test the Tar Heels' interior, where reserves like freshman forward Byron Sanders are getting more playing time in May's absence.

And play with the same type of composure that helped Maryland whip the Blue Devils. For example, the Terps made 29 of 31 free throws and, behind a career-high 17 rebounds from senior center Ryan Randle, owned the paint for long stretches.

"McCants is for real. He can score inside or outside. He'll put it on the floor or he'll post you up. And he'll get to the foul line and make his free throws," said Williams, who also expects the Tar Heels to test Maryland with a zone defense. Carolina used a zone alignment almost exclusively against Connecticut.

"If there's one thing I want to see, it's what we do against a good zone," added Williams, referring to Maryland's patience and resolve to settle for more than jump shots.

Recent performance would seem to favor the Terps, who are going for their third consecutive victory over the Tar Heels.

Maryland, which has built a solid 10-man rotation, has played five ranked teams and once again is starting five seniors led by Nicholas, Randle and point guard Steve Blake, leads the ACC in field-goal percentage defense (.360) and is allowing just 65.3 points, second in the conference. The Tar Heels are last in the league in scoring (70.4) and field-goal percentage (.424).

But the road has a way of being an equalizer.

"Whoever is the most consistent team on the road is probably going to be the team that wins the ACC," Terps senior guard Calvin McCall said. "Let's see if we can beat a good team on the road."

Terps tonight

Matchup: No. 12 Maryland (10-4) vs. North Carolina (11-5)

Site: Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Time: 7

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 2 1/2

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