Terps look to stoke fire at Florida State

No. 16 Maryland aiming to stop two-game slide

February 12, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A week ago, the Maryland Terrapins were riding impressive momentum and sitting atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings. A week later, the Terps are scrambling to regain a spark.

Suddenly, the Terps are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak, and they must do it on the road tonight against a Florida State team that has shown the ability to protect its home court against the big boys. Suddenly, Maryland is trying to prove it can defend and shoot as defending ACC and NCAA champions should.

What a comedown the past week has been for No. 16 Maryland, which had reached the season's high-water mark as the nation's eighth-ranked team before dropping back-to-back games to unranked opponents in Virginia and Georgia Tech.

After entering the previous week as the league's top scoring defense, Maryland allowed an average of 88 points in those two defeats. The Terps were outscored by 18 points at home in the final nine minutes against Virginia, then nearly rallied from 13 points down in the second half before falling in Atlanta.

Point the finger at the basics - poor shooting and bad defense. Against Virginia, the Terps managed one basket in the game's final nine minutes, then missed 30 of 45 first-half shots at Georgia Tech while falling into a 42-34 halftime hole. Guards Drew Nicholas and Steve Blake shot a combined 10-for-30, as Maryland took a season-high 83 attempts, but shot just 42.2 percent and made only 11 trips to the free-throw line.

Defensively, the Terps looked tired late against Virginia and were a step slow for most of the day against the Yellow Jackets, who repeatedly beat Maryland down the floor in transition, off the dribble in a half-court set. Georgia Tech also laid some heavy dunks on the Terps and made 25 of 31 free throws.

In all, Maryland (14-6, 6-3), which has dropped into a tie for second place in the ACC with Duke, has permitted 52.3 percent shooting during its first, two-game losing streak in two months.

"Our defense is killing us right now. You can live with a team making tough shots against you, but you can't live with the transition baskets we're giving up," said Maryland senior forward Tahj Holden, who endured a nasty, in-your-face dunk by Georgia Tech forward Isma'il Muhammad on Sunday.

"We'd score, and [Tech] would just run back down the court and score or score and get fouled. We couldn't stop people from driving to the basket and getting easy layups. We can't allow that to happen."

Blake added: "We're missing on put-backs, layups, post moves and open shots. If you're not going to make the shots you're supposed to make, you're going to have trouble winning."

Maryland coach Gary Williams dismissed the notion that the Terps are tired, pointing to his 10-man rotation.

"We're playing more guys than we played last year, but mentally, you get tired at times. Hopefully, we can be tough enough to get through that," Williams said. "We don't like going on the road to play these 9 o'clock games, but that's the way it goes. It's a tough part of our schedule, and it's up to us to get through it."

The Terps have had their way in recent years with Florida State (11-9, 2-7), beating the Seminoles four straight times, including a 27-point rout in College Park last month. But Florida State, led by its backcourt rotation of Tim Pickett and point guards Nate Johnson and Todd Galloway (City), is getting better.

Although they don't appear to match up well with Maryland inside, the Seminoles have beaten three ranked teams in their last six victories at home, including a 75-70 victory over Duke on Feb. 2. The Terps would be well-served not to peek ahead to two key games, at home against league-leading Wake Forest on Sunday and a trip to Duke next Wednesday.

"Florida State is playing a lot better than they were since the first time we played them. I think Florida State's guys are a lot more comfortable this time of the year," Williams said. "We have to play well from here on out. We're 14-6, tied for second place in the league. We're doing OK."

NOTE: With a Maryland victory, the Terps would become the only ACC team with three road wins in conference play.

Terps tonight

Matchup: No. 16 Maryland (14-6) vs. Florida State (11-9)

Site: Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center, Tallahassee, Fla.

Time: 9

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

Line: Maryland by 7 1/2

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