UM faces stiff road test vs. revitalized Ga. Tech

Beginning to jell, Terps seek 2nd straight upset

College Basketball

January 17, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Show the same level of emotion again on the road. Make crunch-time plays and sink clutch free throws in a hostile house. Be smart and composed with the crowd firmly against you.

Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams thinks his Terrapins are growing up fast. The backcourt, with the recent emergence of freshman Mike Jones, is rounding into a solid four-man group. The power forward position could be turning into a two-headed animal. Most of the free-throw shooters finally are starting to relax.

But, in the wake of Wednesday's home victory over No. 9 North Carolina, Williams wants more. He wants the Terps to stroll into tonight's game against 12th-ranked Georgia Tech, duplicate its effort against the Tar Heels, and steal a road victory from a fast-rising Atlantic Coast Conference opponent with swagger and a strong home-court advantage.

Maryland (10-3, 1-1) has shown it can do it. More than five weeks ago, the Terps went to Gainesville, Fla., and were pelted with debris and unprintable chatter by the rowdy faithful, yet stunned Florida, which was nation's the top-ranked team and had won 40 consecutive home games against nonconference opponents.

Williams says Maryland will need more push to pull it off this time. The Yellow Jackets (13-2, 1-1) are off to their best start in school history under fourth-year coach Paul Hewitt, have won 23 of their past 25 games at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, play bullish defense and are overflowing with scoring weapons.

"Hopefully, we can play at Georgia Tech with the same emotion we had here," Williams said. "Obviously, you use the [home] crowd, but you become a good team when you have the same emotion on the road as you do at home. You're not going to have a chance to win every road game. When you do, you want to take it."

The Terps dropped their ACC opener by four points at Florida State on Dec. 28, and Maryland knows it must swipe a few road games to become a league title contender. The Terps also know this is the most formidable Georgia Tech squad they have faced in some time.

The Yellow Jackets lost center Chris Bosh to the NBA after only one season and junior forward Ed Nelson, who is sitting out this year after transferring to Connecticut. That didn't stop Tech from announcing its new place in the NCAA by stomping Connecticut and Texas Tech to win the Preseason National Invitation Tournament, en route to a 12-0 start that elevated the Yellow Jackets' ranking to No. 4.

Georgia Tech might be smaller, but there is no shortage of bulk, athleticism and versatility. The Yellow Jackets are tops in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense (.366) and three-point defense (.266). And they can hurt you from everywhere.

Junior guard/forward B.J. Elder, leading the team with a 15.6 scoring average, is a pure scorer - equally adept as a pull-up shooter as he is driving to the basket - who is underrated no more. Senior guard Marvin Lewis (12.5 ppg) is a pure shooter. Sophomore point guard Jarrett Jack is averaging 7.0 assists and has become a 51 percent shooter.

If Tech wants to play big, it uses 7-foot-1 center Luke Schenscher (8.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg). Or it can go to a three-guard unit and use Arizona transfer Will Bynum, who has played in eight games, is averaging 8.0 points, and started in place of Lewis in Thursday's 75-57 rout over visiting Virginia.

Then there is the high-flying wild card, junior 6-6 forward Isma'il Muhammad (11.8 ppg), who has the ability to change games and he has become a solid defender and rebounder.

It should be an entertaining confrontation. John Gilchrist and Jack are two rising names among a list of strong ACC point guards, and both are built thick and play rough. Maryland sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley could get into a scoring battle with Elder. Terps sophomore Chris McCray will be chasing Lewis. Maryland center Jamar Smith, the team's leading scorer and the league's top rebounder, might get matched up with Muhammad.

Williams likes the way his pieces are starting to fall into place. Jones appears ready to join Gilchrist, McCray and D.J. Strawberry as a regular in the rotation. And at power forward, freshman Ekene Ibekwe and sophomore Travis Garrison are coming off their best night together - a combined 20 points and 11 rebounds against Carolina.

"If we get in foul trouble in the backcourt, it's not the crisis that it was maybe two weeks ago," Williams said. "Travis and Ekene played well [on Wednesday]. Neither one of them has a great deal of experience, so I want them to feed off of each other."

Terps tonight

Matchup: Maryland (10-3, 1-1) vs. no. 12 Georgia Tech (13-2, 1-1)

Site: Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Atlanta

Time: 8

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

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