Terps have gained knowledge, still have lot to learn

UM is taking advantage of extra practice time

TCU game awaits today

College Basketball : NIT

March 26, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Through two rounds of the National Invitation Tournament, this much remains clear about the Maryland Terrapins: They still haven't learned about the value of playing a full 40 minutes; their shot selection, at times, is still questionable; and their defense is still prone to lapses.

But heading into today's NIT quarterfinal game against Texas Christian (21-13) at Comcast Center, the Terps have also found a resourcefulness that they lacked on many nights this season.

Whether it's been their pressure or perimeter defense, their advantage inside or just their grit and hustle, the Terps have found ways to win - albeit against lesser competition than the Atlantic Coast Conference - while getting little to no offensive contributions from their top three players.

"We've realized that we will all be back and we're trying to get better as a team so that come next October, we can go from a point where maybe we weren't at a few weeks ago," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "That can help us. We've had a lot of time to work on some things, and you want to take advantage of that.

"It's a lot of fun to go out there and just fly around and play."

With a victory today, the Terps (18-12) would inch closer to their ninth consecutive 20-win season and advance to the NIT semifinals, where they'd meet South Carolina at Madison Square Garden in New York on Tuesday night. A matchup between Memphis and Saint Joseph's is set for the other semifinal, and the winners will meet Thursday night. There will be no consolation game this season.

To get to this point, the Terps erased a first-half 13-point deficit and beat Oral Roberts, 85-72, on March 16 because Travis Garrison and Will Bowers took over inside and Maryland rediscovered its perimeter defense.

On Wednesday, Maryland trailed by 16 before its full-court pressure and the steady play of Sterling Ledbetter and Ekene Ibekwe turned the tide in a 78-63 win.

In the two NIT victories, junior forward Nik Caner-Medley, the Terps' leading scorer at 15.9 points a game, has a total of 12 points on 3-for-17 shooting. The team's second-leading scorer, Chris McCray (14 points a game), is 7-for-23 from the field, 0-for-10 from three-point range and has totaled 18 points. And junior point guard John Gilchrist, who is third in scoring and first in assists, hasn't played at all because of wrist and ankle injuries.

"You would think [McCray and Caner-Medley] would have to score well for us to win, but we've been able to get wins," Williams said. "Sterling has stepped up and given us a presence, Travis Garrison in the Oral Roberts game was terrific, and Will Bowers had 14 [against Oral Roberts]. Other guys have really stepped in and helped us. To have six guys in double figures against Davidson is what can make us a good team in the near future."

Gilchrist will not play again today and still isn't practicing with the team. "For him to be 100 percent is important," Williams said. "He's not 100 percent, so he's not playing right now."

In Gilchrist's place, Ledbetter has 20 points and 13 assists in two games. Williams said yesterday that it is obvious that teammates are gaining confidence in the junior, who gives the Terps a different look at point guard.

He's not as talented a scorer as Gilchrist, but teammates classify Ledbetter more as a "pass-first" point guard. In the past two games, the Terps have survived Caner-Medley's and McCray's shooting struggles by pounding the ball inside to Garrison, Ibekwe, Bowers and freshman James Gist.

"I guess I was playing a lot more aggressive than I have been," Ibekwe said after the Davidson game. "You can say I've gotten more comfortable inside."

Said Caner-Medley: "I think patience is key. For us to get better, we need to be more patient offensively. We need to just try and take good shots."

TCU, which has won two NIT road games to get to this point and should be more battle-tested from playing in Conference USA than the Terps' previous two opponents, relies heavily on its three-guard lineup of Corey Santee, Nile Murry and Marcus Shropshire. Those three players each average more than 11 points.

"I think we'll have to play more consistent, especially early," Williams said. "What you worry about is if your team comes out and isn't at a work level high enough to compete. I don't think we are going to do that. We've reached the point now where we come out and we play, and if we shoot the ball a little better early, I think we'll be in pretty good shape."

Today's game

NIT quarterfinal

Maryland (18-12) vs. TCU (21-13)

TCU's top players: G Corey Santee, senior (14.1 ppg., 3.7 apg.); G Nile Murry, junior (12.3 ppg., 4.2 rpg.); G Marcus Shropshire, senior (11.7 ppg.); F Aaron Curtis, senior (7.5 ppg., 4 rpg.).

Outlook: The Horned Frogs have traveled a tougher road to this point than the Terrapins. While Maryland could make the tournament semifinals without leaving Comcast Center, this is TCU's third road game in the tournament. The previous two were two-point victories, including a 78-76 overtime win against Western Michigan. TCU uses a three-guard attack, led by the explosive Santee, but the Horned Frogs get very little scoring in the paint. Terps post players James Gist, Will Bowers, Ekene Ibekwe and Travis Garrison have had their moments in the NIT, but Gist, a freshman, has been the most consistent, totaling 22 points and 11 rebounds in two games despite a sore knee. The winner will play South Carolina in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York on Tuesday.

- Jeff Zrebiec

Maryland today

Matchup: Texas Christian (21-13) vs. Maryland (18-12) in NIT quarterfinals

Site: Comcast Center, College Park

Time: Noon

TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 10 1/2

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