No. 10 UM feels heat in battle vs. 'Pack

Surging Terps set to face equally hot N.C. State with first place in ACC at stake

January 30, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The last team that beat the University of Maryland men's basketball team before it started the drive that culminated in its first national championship a year ago is the next opponent the Terrapins must conquer to stand alone atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.

As the schedule nears its midpoint, the 10th-ranked Terps are feeling pretty good about themselves. They have won three consecutive conference games by beating top-ranked Duke and gutting out a two-game winning streak on the road, and face their next two ACC opponents a week apart at Comcast Center.

All the Terps (12-4, 5-1 ACC) must do tonight to maintain their recent head of steam is stick to an old habit by controlling visiting North Carolina State, which happens to be as hot as Maryland in the ACC.

Both teams have won three straight conference games, the longest current streaks in the league. Both teams are coming off recent sweeps of Duke and North Carolina. Both have combined for three of the six road victories recorded so far in the ACC.

And although the Terps have defeated the Wolfpack at home in 13 consecutive meetings dating to 1989, senior guard Drew Nicholas said the Terps are looking way beyond paper in their preparation.

"They are similar to us. They're coming off of some big wins. They're hot. I'm sure they're going to come in here with a lot of confidence," Nicholas said of the Wolfpack (11-4, 4-1), which trails Maryland by a half game in the ACC.

It could be a memorable clash decided by depth and tempo.

North Carolina State, which upset the top-seeded Terps in the semifinals of last spring's conference tournament and is off to its best start in league play in 14 years, relies primarily on a six-man rotation of players who man multiple positions.

Led by 6-foot-6 sophomore guard/forward Julius Hodge, who leads the league in scoring (19.5 points a game) and tops his team in rebounding (6.4), the Wolfpack runs a spread offense that is designed to milk the shot clock and find backdoor cutters.

In seventh-year coach Herb Sendek's attack, forwards Josh Powell or Marcus Melvin might bring the ball up the floor or roam the three-point line. Senior point guard Clifford Crawford, who scored 21 points in last week's 80-71 win over Duke, is equally comfortable spotting up for jumpers or posting up down low. And the Wolfpack loves to slow the game at the free-throw line, where it has made 74.7 percent of its attempts, second in the conference.

"All five guys handle the ball. [The Wolfpack] make your big people play away from the basket. That's unusual," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "They don't use many guys, even if they're not in foul trouble. They've been able to beat good teams like that. We'll see what happens."

Maryland, fresh off a 52-47 victory at Clemson that marked the Terps' lowest output in a victory since 1985, wants to re-establish its transition game and burn out the Wolfpack with a rotation that can stretch to 10 players, beginning with its five-senior starting lineup.

After struggling to find offensive rhythm against Clemson's matchup zone defense - the Terps did not manage a single fast-break basket - Maryland figures to encounter a similar scheme tonight.

Look for the Terps to try hard to rediscover a good habit by stubbornly getting the ball inside, where Maryland thinks it can exploit N.C. State's lack of firepower down low.

Backup forward Jordan Collins is still hobbled by ankle and groin injuries. Forward Ilian Evtimov is out for the year with a knee injury. The Wolfpack ranks last in the ACC in rebounding. Its bench is averaging only 11.6 points.

"We've got to get it inside, take it to the hoop, get their big men in foul trouble," said Maryland freshman forward Nik Caner-Medley, part of a five-man bench that is averaging a collective 25.2 points and 16.1 rebounds. "If that happens, I think it will definitely be to our advantage."

NOTES: Lefty Driesell, who ranks fourth all time with 786 victories, including 348 he earned while coaching the Terps from 1970 through 1986, will be honored during halftime at tonight's game. Driesell announced his retirement last month after a 41-year career. ... Tonight also marks the final game with the Terps for strength and conditioning coach Kurtis Shultz, who has taken an NFL job as an assistant strength coach with the Cincinnati Bengals. Shultz played for Maryland from 1992 to 1995. ... The Terps lead the ACC in field-goal-percentage defense (.358), blocked shots (7.4 a game) and steals (11.4 a game).

Terps tonight

Matchup:No. 10 Maryland (12-4) vs. N.C. State (11-4)

Site:Comcast Center, College Park

Time: 9

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

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