Senior Smith takes seat without point

Fofana displaces starter much of UM second half to bolster rebounding

February 29, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Jamar Smith finished last season with some solid efforts against Xavier and Michigan State in the NCAA tournament.

He might finish this one as an afterthought.

Wake Forest doesn't have a scholarship senior on its roster, and Maryland might as well not have had one during the last 19 minutes at the Comcast Center yesterday.

Last season was Smith's first as a transfer from Allegany Community College. He frequently made his presence felt in the low post. He has started every game at center for the fading Terps this season, and yesterday his eight-minute contribution produced one assist and one blocked shot.

He didn't make a single shot or grab one rebound.

The second half began with Smith fouling at the defensive end, then missing a jump shot on the Terps' first possession. That was enough for coach Gary Williams, who pulled Smith. He didn't return.

Hassan Fofana, a 6-foot-10 freshman who came in averaging less than eight minutes, played 12 of the last 19 en route to a 25-minute stint that was his longest of the season. Fofana got an even longer chance in the first half, when he had five rebounds and Maryland's starters totaled three.

Maryland has gotten poor production at the shooting guard and center positions during its Atlantic Coast Conference swoon. Williams has already inserted D.J. Strawberry in his first five, and Fofana could give the Terps a second freshman starter Wednesday, when they face a must-win situation at N.C. State.

"We're not having tryouts," Williams said of Fofana's extended playing time. "He's been doing that now for a while, giving us a defensive presence, playing better post defense. That's why he was in there."

Fofana, a native of Guinea in Africa, has drawn numerous comparisons to Obinna Ekezie, who helped Maryland to the Sweet 16 in 1998. Fofana's only basket came in the first half, and he isn't going to be confused with Bill Walton when he's passing the ball out of the high post, but he's still learning.

His upside seems as huge as his heart, and Fofana defined his role as raising the Terps' intensity level.

"If it's down, you have to bring it up," Fofana said. "If it's already up, you try to maintain it or bring it up even higher."

Fofana brought some heat, but kept his cool, as he thought twice about slamming the ball when he was called for throwing an elbow with eight minutes left in the first half.

In the final minute, substitutes Darien Henry and Will Bowers stood, Mike Grinnon crouched and Smith remained seated, clearly unhappy. Was he upset with his inactivity?

"Sure," said Smith, who a moment later added, "everyone came out flat today."

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