Consistent effort gives UM confidence

Bracing for final stretch in ACC, Terrapins show resilience, roster depth

February 10, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Before speaking to the media after Maryland's 86-71 victory over Virginia Tech at Comcast Center on Tuesday night, Terrapins coach Gary Williams took a good, hard look at the game's box score and came to this conclusion:

"I think everybody played well."

It was just last Saturday after a loss at Miami when Williams remarked that one of the Terps' biggest problems is that they can't seem to play with consistency. Against Miami, Chris McCray played well, but Nik Caner-Medley and John Gilchrist didn't. Gilchrist had a solid game at Clemson on Feb. 1, but few other Terps could make that claim.

However, Tuesday's box score revealed four Terps in double figures, eight players who scored and nine who logged 11 minutes or more. If it wasn't Maryland's best effort of the season, it was very close, especially under the circumstances.

The Terps (14-7), now 5-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and in a four-way tie for fourth place, were coming off two disappointing losses and were dealing with the reality that they might have to play an extended stretch without sophomore Ekene Ibekwe (cracked rib), one of their key players. Less than a month ago, the Terps lost top reserve D.J. Strawberry to a season-ending knee injury.

"Guys like Mike Jones and Mike Grinnon and Will Bowers stepped up," Williams said yesterday. "That's what we need. When guys get injured, you find out stuff about the future of your team."

Ibekwe, who was averaging 9.0 points and 6.8 rebounds in just under 23 minutes per game, was found earlier this week to have a cracked rib just below his left collarbone. He missed his second straight game Tuesday, and although Ibekwe said he'll know more after a doctor's appointment today, he expects he'll be out for "a couple of weeks." The Terps have only six games left in the regular season.

"I'm glad I know what's been hurting me," Ibekwe said. "I can't really play like this. It affects my breathing. It's good that it's healing now, and I'll go from here."

With Ibekwe out, Williams gave James Gist his first career start, rather than Will Bowers, because he thought the more athletic Gist would be a better matchup against the Hokies.

Then, Travis Garrison got in early foul trouble, prompting Williams to resort often to a three-guard lineup, mixing in Sterling Ledbetter and Jones, and relying on seldom-used Grinnon for a career-high 12 minutes.

"If you have players that are going to come in and play hard and steal some minutes and even be real productive, that's going to help any team," Caner-Medley said. "Having depth is huge. We have a few guys out right now and you just can't make excuses. Guys just have to play."

Williams, who said that he has had more injuries this season than any other time during his 16-year coaching career in College Park, likely will play mix-and-match for the rest of the season. He indicated that he could again alter his team's starting lineup for Saturday's game against No. 7 Duke.

When the Terps won at Duke in late January, Williams gave Jones and Bowers their first career starts and both played important roles in the victory.

NOTE: Williams confirmed yesterday that first-year assistant coach Mike Lonergan, who guided Catholic to a Division III national championship in 2001, will head to Vermont on Sunday and interview for the Catamounts' coaching job, which will be vacated when longtime coach Tom Brennan retires at the end of the season. "Having been a former assistant and having many of my former assistants go on to become head coaches, I think every assistant's goal is to become a head coach," Williams said. "My job is to help them get there." Eleven of Williams' former assistants have become head coaches.

Next for Maryland

Matchup: No. 7 Duke (18-2, 8-2) vs. Maryland (14-7, 5-5)

Site: Comcast Center, College Park

When: Saturday, 9 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

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