Terps men finally put chemistry, team first

Coach hopes collective effort in Duke win is sign of future

February 14, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - When it was over Saturday night, when the overtime clock hit zero and fans at Comcast Center stormed the court to celebrate Maryland's 99-92 victory over seventh-ranked Duke, John Gil- christ and Chris McCray embraced.

And then the two Terrapins, who each played critical roles in helping Maryland complete the program's first season sweep of the Blue Devils in 10 years, waded through the sea of red-clad Terps fans, arm-in-arm. It was a fitting image to end an emotional night for the Terps, who have insisted all season that a slew of injuries and several blowout losses have only helped improve the chemistry of the team.

"Over the last two years, we've dealt with a lot of adversity," said junior forward Nik Caner-Medley. "Team chemistry comes with dealing with adverse situations - dealing with failure and success, the ups and downs of a season. I think the reason why this team is so tight right now is we've been able to roll with the punches."

For the first time all season, the Terps' actions Saturday suggested that the past two months, since the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference season, have been taxing on the team. Gilchrist, who has been scrutinized more than any other Terp after a much-publicized disagreement with coach Gary Williams last month, openly cried after the victory, and his coach nearly did the same.

By the end of the game, in which Gilchrist played 41 out of 45 minutes and finished just one assist shy of a triple double, he was so emotionally and physically spent that he barely reached the rim on an overtime free throw.

"John has played well down the stretch here the last couple of weeks," said Williams, his voice breaking up from emotion. "You just keep playing until you work it out. John had the courage to do that. He's been great."

Said Gilchrist: "I just have to attribute it to [Williams], for being a great coach. We were not seeing eye-to-eye on a couple of things. He gave me the leeway a little more, and at the same time, I try not to upset him."

But it wasn't just Gilchrist on Saturday. Six Terps were in double figures and all nine players who played scored. It was the type of collective effort that Williams and many others expected consistently from the Terps (15-7, 6-5 in ACC) when the season began.

After the game, Williams acknowledged how an effort like this needs to become a trend, rather than Maryland turning it on and off depending on its opponent. The Terps, who play at North Carolina State on Wednesday before staying on the road against Virginia on Saturday, are tied for fourth in the ACC with Miami. Several analysts said the second victory over Duke clinched the Terps' 12th straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

"Now, our emphasis is on playing the same way the rest of the way," Williams said. "We don't have that many games left. I think we can make the same effort every night."

Several Terps are playing with a confidence that was missing at times earlier this season. Along with becoming one of their most reliable scorers - he's been in double figures in 17 of the 21 games he's played - McCray has established himself as one of the best defenders in the ACC. In two games, McCray had forced Duke junior guard J.J. Redick into shooting 12-for-40 from the field.

"He is a good individual defender," said Redick, who had a brief verbal altercation with McCray on Saturday.

Terps sophomore guard Mike Jones also took a turn on Redick, but his biggest mark was made on offense with 15 points, including eight straight for Maryland at one point in the second half. Jones, who was shooting just 28 percent through his first 12 games, has made 18 of his past 23 shots (78 percent) and has been in double figures in three straight games.

And then there's sophomore center Ekene Ibekwe, who after missing two straight games, played well Saturday despite a cracked rib. Ibekwe has been outspoken that he would prefer playing a forward position rather than center, however he has found ways to help the team regardless of where he has played. Williams said Ibekwe "showed me something" by playing while injured Saturday.

"I had a lot of people that were telling me to take my time, that it was only one game, but I felt it would be real good for me to play," Ibekwe said. "I knew my team needed me."

Next for Maryland

Matchup: Maryland (15-7, 6-5) vs. N.C. State (14-10, 4-7)

Site: RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.

When: Wednesday, 9 p.m.

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

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