With victory, UM makes fans' curses thing of past

February 13, 2005|By LAURA VECSEY

COLLEGE PARK - Curse J.J. Redick? How about love him?

How about air kisses and Valentine's Day cards for the Duke shooter who helps inspire the Terrapins to fight the way they fight?

A year ago, Comcast Center was the center of an anti-J.J. Redick storm, one that landed the University of Maryland in the middle of a national debate on fan behavior. Not the good kind.

Last night, the reception for Redick was devoid of the relentless and profane rancor - probably because all that was rendered unnecessary, like the start of a classy kind of fan appreciation.

Who needs to curse when there's so much reason to cheer?

Look at what kind of response that the mere presence of Redick in the house unleashes in the Terrapins: a darn good fight - the kind of ACC basketball heavyweight victory over Duke, 99-92, in overtime, to satisfy even the most numb and dumbed-down sports fans.

"This league will take you prisoner and make you stay awhile," Redick said.

"Every week in the ACC is like this. You're either coming off a big win or a tough loss ... This is the best conference in the country. Anyone who says otherwise is crazy."

It takes inspiration of all kinds to notch three consecutive wins over Duke, the first time for the Terps in 23 years. Redick supplies some of the juice. That and a solid coaching effort by Gary Williams and a team chemistry experiment that players say is coming together.

Look at the way point guard John Gilchrist, Williams' new public relations spokesman, turned in a three-point play with 1:15 left in regulation, closing the gap to 86-85.

Look at the way Redick could no longer respond, his legs suddenly lifeless and tired as he shot up a ball that barely grazed the rim on Duke's next possession.

"When four of your starters foul out, any team's going to have to start using walk-ons," Redick said about the depleted Duke rotation.

Look at the way Maryland forward Ekene Ibekwe crashed the boards, scoring a put-back to give the Terps the lead, 87-86, then swishing the free throw to put the Terps up 88-86 with 39 seconds left.

Look at Nik Caner-Medley bouncing a short jumper back and forth across the rim before the ball fell away from the basket, the score tied and the game sent into overtime.

"This team is so tight right now. We've grown as a team and to get a win like this feels so good," Caner-Medley said.

In overtime, when five Duke players had fouled out, Redick was left. Even with all his skill, his shooting, his gym-rat love of the game, it wasn't enough.

This was a good fight, sent to overdrive and overtime in a game in which Maryland refused to let Redick have his way.

Not that he didn't try. Redick came out at the start of the second half, unfazed by the jersey clutches or the body blocks designed to slow him or, better yet, disrupt him. Maryland defenders, Ibekwe and Chris McCray, had expended a load of precious energy with one sole intention:

Stop Redick.

It worked, for a while, until Redick rose to the occasion.

He rose like the pure, sweet, high arc of his own rainbow three-pointers. This is the Redick who opened the second half with two three-pointers, giving Duke the lead.

This is the Redick who last night made legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach, sitting on press row, clutch his head and shake it so vigorously and in such awe, Auerbach almost shook loose his black and green Celtics hat.

Redick shoots, so pretty. Redick scores, with a touch and tenacity that fuels an intense kind of feeling.

You hate him? You curse him? You say bad things about him. And, worse things yet about his sister?

This little whippet of a player was the object of profane derision, of scorn and venomous invectives?

The abuse that Maryland fans loved to heap upon the pale shoulders of J.J. Redick wasn't really abuse. It was admiration, it was acknowledgment of the Virginian's greatness, only it masqueraded as contempt, hatred - the kind that prompted Terps fans to go nuts one year ago.

Last night's ACC showdown was without the ugliness of last year's infamous game.

Now, look at what No. 2-ranked North Carolina could not do to Redick and No. 7 Duke on Wednesday night in Durham. Duke scored the upset that night, although in this league, is there really such a thing as an upset?

Well, last night it was Maryland's turn. The Terps came in waves, used defense against Redick and a stellar night from point guard Gilchrist and Caner-Medley to undermine Duke.

Gary Williams had said at the start of the season, the thing he most wants to see from these Terps is improvement; a team that gets better and understands itself as each week in the ACC season passes - especially at this time of the year.

Well, the good Terps showed up last night. This is the same Terps team that shot down Georgia Tech and Duke two weeks ago. These are not the bad Terps who dropped games against Clemson and Miami, that can't find the next level on the road - yet.

These are the good Terps who won the ACC tournament a year ago and permitted speculation that they were capable of making mischief again.

Suddenly, the prospect of North Carolina coming to College Park later this month is a lot less frightening. In fact, considering how the Terrapins have discovered a way to make interesting mischief with their top-ranked ACC cohorts, the rest of the ACC season becomes even more enticing.

Was this the same Maryland team that got wiped off the Dean Smith Center court in its first ACC road game this season?

It did not look like it.

The Terps have found a way to generate energy and offense. Last night, it was inspiration enough to have Redick in the house, if only to finally prove that it's not about what curse words you unleash, it's about game.

Redick's got game. The Terps had a better one.

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