Win over No. 15 Wisconsin helps young Terps stem growing pains

UM overcomes mistakes to reach surprising 4-0

College Basketball

December 04, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The Maryland Terrapins have served early notice that their youth and inexperience will not keep them down.

Tuesday's 73-67 victory over No. 15 Wisconsin in overtime at Comcast Center was an affirmation. Three nights after a lackluster outing against visiting Hofstra, the unbeaten Terps made their share of mistakes, yet trumped those miscues with all-out effort and clutch plays.

And by beating a ranked opponent for the first time, the Terps (4-0) proved as much to themselves as they did to any outsiders who might have doubted their talent and makeup.

"We knew after the Hofstra game, if we play that way against any of the caliber of the three [ranked] teams we were about to face [Gonzaga and Florida included], they would exploit every weakness," said Maryland sophomore point guard John Gilchrist, whose career-high nine assists and one turnover steadied the Terps' erratic offense.

"With a coach like Coach [Gary] Williams, he's a walking statement. At every practice, he feels he has something to prove. He really has a chip on his shoulders. He's going to push hard, so we have to push hard."

The Terps pushed, all right. In a game marked by 12 lead changes, including two in overtime, Maryland pounded the ball inside to senior center Jamar Smith, who scored six of his career-high 25 points in the extra period. Gilchrist relentlessly broke down the Badgers' man-to-man defense by slicing into the lane and creating scoring opportunities for himself and others, such as sophomore guard Chris McCray (career-high 16 points).

And Maryland's defense, which had its press burned repeatedly by the Badgers - who made 10 three-pointers after entering the contest shooting 17.6 percent from long range - wore down Wisconsin by forcing three critical turnovers in overtime.

"As we get better with some technical things, it will help us be a good basketball team, but I really liked our heart," Williams said. "Any time you play teams with experience, they are going to teach you some things. Everybody says you learn a lot when you lose. You also learn a lot when you win."

The Terps, who will tangle with No. 17 Gonzaga in the opening round of the BB&T Classic on Saturday at MCI Center, still have much work to do.

Their transition defense broke down enough to give Wisconsin plenty of open shots from the outside, especially junior point guard Devin Harris (team-high 24 points). Maryland also continued to stumble at the free-throw line, where the team missed 10 of 21 attempts, but got a game-tying free throw from sophomore Nik Caner-Medley to force an extra period.

Clock management also needs sharpening. Take the end of the first half, when the Terps went on a 14-3 run to take a 30-20 lead with 35 seconds remaining. After a missed three-point attempt by Wisconsin guard Ray Nixon, instead of holding the ball patiently for the last shot of the half, Gilchrist tried an alley-oop pass to Smith.

The play misfired, and the Badgers ate up the turnover and charged down the floor, where McCray fouled Harris. He trimmed the halftime margin to 30-22 by making two free throws. And after a missed three-pointer by Maryland guard Andre Collins at the buzzer, Williams tore into his team as the Terps left the floor.

"We should have a 10-point lead at worst. We got away with it this time, but maybe not the next time," Williams said.

But the good outweighed the bad. Smith, who is allowed to roam the floor and launch the occasional outside shot, looked more comfortable in the low post, where Wisconsin could not contain his quickness or his power. After being hesitant in the first three games, McCray shot the ball decisively with a 6-for-8 showing.

Freshman forward Ekene Ibekwe filled in capably for foul-hindered Travis Garrison.

Freshman guard D.J. Strawberry again showed poise while playing a career-high 26 minutes. Strawberry had a team-high four steals, three points, five rebounds and two of Maryland's 10 blocked shots. He nearly won the game in regulation with a 40-foot shot that barely missed.

NOTES: With the victory, Maryland improved the home-court record of Atlantic Coast Conference teams to 13-3 in the five-year history of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which has featured three Maryland games that have required an extra period. The Terps lost in overtime to Wisconsin, 78-75, in Milwaukee three years ago. Last year, Maryland dropped an 80-74 decision in overtime to Indiana in Indianapolis.

Next for Terps

Matchup: No. 17 Gonzaga (4-1) vs. Maryland (4-0) in BB&T Classic

Site: MCI Center, Washington

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

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

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