Loss should silence Terps' talk of repeating

March 15, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

GREENSBORO, N.C. - There should not be any talk about the University of Maryland winning another national championship, but whether this team is still breathing.

The No. 2-seeded Terps were one and done in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament last night after being routed by seventh-seeded North Carolina, 84-72, in the quarterfinals. The signs are there of a team on the verge of collapse.

The point guard lost control of the game in the second half at the same time the shooting guard went playground. The Terps' once feared trapping press defense became as easy to break as pop singer Michael Jackson's nose, and there is an all points bulletin out for the frontcourt.

Talk about self destruction. This is only the sixth time in the 50-year history of the tournament that a seventh seed has knocked off a two seed, as Maryland lost to a team that won only six conference games during the regular season and committed 23 turnovers last night.

If Maryland was looking for a fourth seed in the NCAA tournament, it better think again. How does No. 5 or No. 6 sound? Terps head coach Gary Williams hasn't won the ACC tournament in his 14 years at Maryland, and he might never win it. The omen is still alive.

As Maryland players walked off the court last night, Terps fans offered all kinds of excuses. They mentioned how hard it is to beat an opponent three times in a season, how hard it is for a team to win three games on the road in the state of North Carolina, and how difficult it was for Maryland to get up for an opponent the Terps had beaten by 40 points on Feb. 22.

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

Last week they lost to Virginia, now to North Carolina.

Dead or alive?

What we saw last night was pretty discouraging. Point guard Steve Blake, the team's most consistent player this season, started off well but wasn't a factor late in the game. At times, he became irritated with his teammates and their placement on the floor. Blake had a season-high seven turnovers, four in the second half, and continued to have a late-season shooting drought, hitting only four of 11 from the field.

Blake went into a similar tailspin in the postseason last year, but had center Lonny Baxter and shooting guard Juan Dixon to carry the team. But those two are now in the NBA, and Blake and senior shooting guard Drew Nicholas were supposed to carry the Terps this year.

Well, where were they?

"It's frustrating because this is my last time being here," said Nicholas. "This is as good as it gets and we blow it. If we do it again, it's all over. People need to wake up and realize they are passing up a great opportunity.`

Nicholas finished with 18 points, but 15 of those came in the first half. As much as he kept the Terps in the game in the first half, he helped take them out of rhythm in the second. Once Maryland fell behind 60-55 with 8 minutes and 36 second left, Nicholas panicked.

You applaud him for trying to take charge, but his teammates stood around as he began to play way too much one-on-one. When Maryland doesn't get a good game from either Blake or Nicholas, you get a team that is disorganized. You get a team that is below average.

You lose to North Carolina by 12 points.

The backcourt has to carry Maryland because the frontcourt play is so soft. All week long center Ryan Randle and forward Tahj Holden said they had gotten Williams' message about turning up the intensity, and all they did was turn in another poor performance.

Holden at least played with energy in the first half. But he finished with only six points and just three rebounds. Randle's final stats were even more dismal: one point, two rebounds while playing only 13 minutes because he was in foul trouble.

He turned down several interviews in the locker room last night.

Maybe because this was a team the Terps should have dominated inside. The Tar Heels start three forwards, one of them 6-foot-4 and another 6-6. The Terps should have punished them inside, just ground North Carolina into the ground, especially after Maryland was out-rebounded by Virginia, 59-36, last Sunday.

But instead, North Carolina had a 40-30 edge in rebounds. Williams stayed in that flex offense, rotating his big men up to the high post when Maryland should have just tried to beat the Tar Heels in the paint. Maryland's leading rebounder was Nicholas, who finished with six. Terps forward Nik Caner-Medley had five rebounds, and may have had more but he was too busy trying to convert three-pointers, missing four, including the first two to open the second half.

It was just a total mess.

Regardless of Maryland having beaten North Carolina twice this year, the Terps still should have handled the Tar Heels easily. Carolina has nine players on the roster who are either freshmen or sophomores. The Tar Heels don't have a legitimate center. They play in streaks because they can't maintain the intensity for a long period of time.

But last night, they shot 53.8 percent, including 11 of 23 from the three-point line, led by sophomore guard Melvin Scott, from Baltimore, who was five of seven on three-pointers. Carolina was 23 of 36 from the foul line as the Tar Heels went into the double bonus with 8:46 left in the game.

But most of all, Carolina won because Maryland didn't show up. A team that prides itself on being blue collar didn't put forth a total effort. It didn't do it last night or last Sunday against Virginia.

And you have to wonder if the Terps are alive or just waiting to get rolled over in the NCAA tournament.

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