Road extra slick for young teams

Playing away makes bad situation worse for inexperienced squads

ACC notebook

January 24, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

In any given year, winning on the road in the Atlantic Coast Conference often is an arduous task. But this season, with so many youthful teams throughout the league, road victories could be especially rare.

Consider this: By beating North Carolina on Wednesday in Chapel Hill to win their first conference road game, the Maryland Terrapins recorded only the nine-team ACC's third league victory away from home.

The other road victories have been Duke's 89-71 win at Clemson on Jan. 5 and North Carolina State's 70-63 decision over Florida State in Tallahassee on Jan. 18.

The concept of home-court advantage is hardly new. Between playing in a hostile environment, jumping on airplanes to get there, sleeping in strange beds or having to spend an entire day in a hotel before going to an arena for a 9 p.m. tipoff, road teams have their share of obstacles to overcome.

This year's road struggles seem to point to one primary factor.

"Young players," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose Terps flopped in their road opener at Wake Forest last week. "I think there's a tendency for young guys to play a certain way at home and a certain way on the road, and you have to get through that, where you play at a certain level more consistently.

"It's a lot easier to play at home when you have a crowd like we did [against Duke on Jan. 18]. If things start to go bad, the crowd just picks you right up again. There's the pride thing about playing well in front of the home fans. But look at last year. We were a veteran team that played the same way wherever we played."

The Terps seemingly will have to cover a shorter path than most teams in the ACC to achieve that consistency. Maryland is blessed with five seniors who have started a combined 55 games, by far tops in the ACC. Clemson is second with 20 combined starts by seniors.

For a brief period, Williams started freshman forwards Travis Garrison and Nik Caner-Medley. After the debacle at Wake, where Garrison and Caner-Medley, among others, looked shell-shocked, Williams went back to the seniors who began the year as the starting five.

"I think it's a combination of youth and parity in our league," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, whose Yellow Jackets (9-6, 2-2) are driven almost exclusively by underclassmen and feature two freshman starters in point guard Jarrett Jack and power forward Chris Bosh.

"We've had some tough losses in close games," added Hewitt, who has swallowed both conference defeats on the road. "Part of that comes down to not having the experience to go out on the road and do what you have to do in end-of-game situations."

Of all teams, Duke, which won 24 straight conference away games from 1999 through 2001, is being reminded of what a trap a road trip can be. A week ago, the Blue Devils were ranked No. 1 and were undefeated. Since then, Duke -- which starts three freshmen -- has lost at Maryland and at N.C. State by a combined 24 points.

"I think most players like the atmosphere on the road, but your communication is key, the way you relay commands and set up plays [amid the hostile crowd noise]," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "A veteran team knows how to do those things. A young team has to learn how to do them."

Scott stays busy

When the Terps play at Clemson, they should expect to see lots of Tigers senior point guard Edward Scott.

Through 14 games, Scott already has logged 40 minutes on eight occasions and has not played fewer than 32. That makes the smooth, 6-foot, 190-pound Scott an unlikely iron man.

"He's a small man, but very fit, and as long as he is smart with his body and mind and we are, too, Edward will realize what he needs to do to pace himself," Clemson coach Larry Shyatt said.

The Tigers, who lack depth at Scott's position, are taking care not to burn out Scott. Shyatt said he is limiting Scott's practice and weightlifting time.

While toiling during losing seasons throughout his career, Scott has quietly become one of the league's gems. He leads his team in scoring (17.2) and assists (6.5). His 2.53 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks second in the ACC.

Going into the Maryland game, Scott needs 29 points to become the second player in school history to record 1,000 points and 500 assists. Terrell McIntyre is the other.

Sendek has a touch

North Carolina State coach Herb Sendek is a hero for now in Raleigh after the Wolfpack beat Duke for the first time since the ACC tournament in 1997, Sendek's rookie year at N.C. State.

Sendek also is quite the diplomat. Two weeks ago, during an 85-61 drubbing at Georgia Tech, he sat down sophomore guard/forward Julius Hodge for the game's final 11 minutes after Hodge lost his composure and let his coach have an earful.

The day before the Wolfpack beat Duke, Sendek deflected criticism of his best player, who happens to be his most volatile player.

"We're all beautiful people. Julius is a beautiful kid the way he is," Sendek said. "He's focused and emotional, and he's a great competitor. We've just got to accept that."

What's more acceptable to Sendek is the way Hodge kept his cool while scoring 18 points, recording six assists, grabbing five rebounds and blocking two shots in 39 outstanding minutes against the Blue Devils.

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