Terps can make point vs. Duke - and history, too

Toppling two No. 1s is rare unranked feat, but UM on roll at home

College Basketball

January 21, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The Atlantic Coast Conference appears to be as deep and evenly matched as ever.

But Duke is still Duke, as in the top-ranked team in the nation, and the class of the ACC as the league schedule passes the quarter pole. And the Maryland Terrapins, looking to bounce back after a loss at Georgia Tech that infuriated their coach, find themselves staring at the Blue Devils in a familiar setting, with a chance to regain a jolt of confidence by taking a historic turn in the middle of their season.

A victory over the Blue Devils (14-1, 4-0), the lone undefeated team left in the ACC and dominant winners of 11 straight, would lift the up-and-down Terps (10-4, 1-2) in many ways.

For starters, Maryland would avoid its first 1-3 opening in conference play since 2000 and defeat its fourth top 15 opponent of the year. But that's just a warm-up for the weighty stuff.

Six weeks after upsetting formerly top-ranked Florida on the road, Maryland has an opportunity to defeat two No. 1 teams in the same season for the first time in school history, and the Terps could become the first unranked school to pull off such a feat since City College of New York did it 54 years ago.

Tonight's event at Comcast Center has even more pre-game spice, which cuts to the heart of a rivalry that has mushroomed in recent years.

Remember, the Terps and the Blue Devils are just three seasons removed from facing each other four times in a three-month span, including Maryland's infamous, 54-second collapse with a 10-point lead at Cole Field House in January and Duke's comeback from a 22-point deficit to beat the Terps in the Final Four.

More recently, the Blue Devils have made their last two trips to College Park as a No. 1 team, and have lost both times by a combined 29 points.

"There have been some wild games. There's a lot of stuff that makes [the rivalry] special," said coach Gary Williams. "Everybody said the league is real even. All of the sudden, there's Duke out there, and somebody's got to beat them before you can say the league is more even."

Maryland's play has been decidedly uneven, especially away from home.

Partly due to inexperience, poor free-throw shooting and an offense that has relied too much on easy points in transition, the Terps have been unable to sustain a winning streak beyond three games and have followed excellent efforts against quality opponents with clunkers.

The past week revealed the latest example. On Wednesday, the Terps produced a balanced attack, clutch defense and emotion to burn while knocking off then-No. 9 North Carolina at home. Three days later, their offense and defense fell flat in the second half of an 81-71 loss at then-No. 12 Georgia Tech, where sophomore point guard John Gilchrist (career-high 27 points) was the lone Terp to score in double figures.

"It's the demon of success," said Gilchrist, who is shooting 59 percent in conference play, best in the ACC. "We need to get this [inconsistency] past us. That's the sign of maturity."

The Blue Devils, who are shooting 51 percent (overall) and 42.5 percent (league) from three-point range, figure to demand it.

Duke has scoring balance, with four players averaging in double figures and senior point guard Chris Duhon (9.9 ppg) just shy of it. It is playing the stingiest defense in the ACC. And, unlike the teams of recent vintage that fired away from behind the arc, these Blue Devils hurt people inside and outside.

In guards J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing, Duke has the hottest shooters in the conference. It has Duhon, who is taking fewer shots by distributing the ball with a 9.5-assist average in ACC play. It has sophomore center Shelden Williams and backup Shavlik Randolph, who have combined to average 20.1 points and 13.4 rebounds.

And the Blue Devils have 6-8 freshman Luol Deng, a Sudan native who can do it all.

"[Deng] is really unselfish. It doesn't look like he's changed his game to try to live up to the expectations of other people. He just plays," Gary Williams said.

To regain its footing, Maryland needs its frontcourt to revive itself after a disaster in Atlanta. Senior center Jamar Smith, the league's leading rebounder (10.9 rpg), is looking to erase a seven-point headache. Sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley shot 1-for-10 and scored a season-low five points at Tech. In the backcourt, sophomore shooting guard Chris McCray has averaged just 5.7 points in his past three games.

Williams is most disturbed by Maryland's lack of movement on offense and its sloppiness with the ball. In three conference games, the Terps have 34 assists and 65 turnovers.

"They call it running the offense, not walking the offense," Williams said. "We've been a great passing team [in the past], and we haven't achieved that yet this year. It might not happen this year, but we're going to get there with these guys. When we do, we're going to be a very good basketball team."

Toppling No. 1

The Maryland men's basketball team takes on No. 1 Duke tonight at Comcast Center. The Terps have defeated the nation's top-ranked team nine times, including five times under Gary Williams:

Date ............... Opp. ............... UM rank .......... Score

2-21-59 ..... N. Carolina ............ - .................. 69-51

1-27-79 ..... Notre Dame ........... - ................. 67-66

2-27-82 ......... Virginia ............. - ................ *47-46

2-20-86 ....... N. Carolina .......... - ................ *77-72

2-7-95 ......... N. Carolina .......... 8 ................. 86-73

1-14-98 ....... N. Carolina ........... - ................ *89-83

2-17-02 .......... Duke ................. 3 ................. 87-73

1-18-03 .......... Duke ................ 17 ................ 87-72

12-10-03 ....... Florida ............... - .................. *69-68

*-Overtime. All wins at College Park except February 1986 in Chapel Hill, N.C., and December 2003 in Gainesville, Fla.

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