Terps philosophical about Maui showing

Title elusive, but tough games seen as benefit down the road

November 25, 2005|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

LAHAINA, Hawaii -- It wasn't difficult to spot 7-foot-1 center Will Bowers plodding around one of the four pools here at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa, wearing a red Maryland visor and with a towel draped around his neck.

As it turned out, a 2-1 finish in the Maui Invitational gave the men's basketball team a little time to relax. In between, there was some time to think.

Bowers and a few of his teammates sat in lounge chairs around the pool Monday night after the Terps' 88-76 loss to No. 9-ranked Gonzaga, the eventual tournament runner-up.

The Terps came into this elite three-day tournament - which featured six former national champions and four Top 10 teams - looking to make a national statement with an upset of the Bulldogs and, for a good stretch of the game, it seemed possible.

When it didn't happen, the goal changed to a 2-1 record, which Maryland achieved with wins over Chaminade and Arkansas.

Maryland (3-1) finished fifth in the eight-team field and was among the tournament's best offensively, but struggled with transition defense and strong starts.

Coach Gary Williams, whose moods here seemed to change with the tides, said he was pleased with his team's ability to bounce back and win the final two games.

"That was a tough game against Gonzaga," he said. "We thought we had a chance to win. We didn't execute real well. But my guys came back and played at 8:30 in the morning. There was never a time where I thought they wouldn't be ready to play. They really had a great attitude."

Senior guard Chris McCray said Williams "put it into perspective" for the players when he told them that only one team was going to leave Hawaii with a 3-0 record. It happened to be third-ranked Connecticut.

"To leave 2-1, we accept it," said McCray, who led Maryland with an average of 16.7 points in the tournament. "We came here to win it, but at the same time, we just have to look at the positive and we can go home with a winning record."

Maryland will have a light practice today, most likely a walk-through, as it begins to prepare for Sunday's 2 p.m. tip-off at home against Nicholls State.

Senior forward Travis Garrison, who was the tournament leader in field-goal percentage with .632 on 12 of 19 attempts, said such tough competition early will prepare the Terps for Atlantic Coast Conference play, which begins Dec. 11 against league newcomer Boston College.

"Losing to Gonzaga gave us some strength," Garrison said. "In adversity, you have to build off of it and I think we did that. Some of these guys we won't see again until the [NCAA] tournament. Playing these teams helps us get ready for conference games and upcoming games."

One of Maryland's biggest problems here was getting off to a fast start, as the Terps were forced to play catch-up against Gonzaga and also fell behind by as many as 11 to Division II Chaminade. Maryland also had to dig out of a 20-12 hole against Arkansas.

"We've always got a second gear," said McCray, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half against the Razorbacks. "Once we learn how to start games the way we finish, it's just going to be crazy.

"We know we have so much talent on this team, we just have to put everything together," he added. "It's still early. We still have a lot of practice time before we know what team we really want to be."

Of the eight teams in the tournament, Maryland finished third in scoring offense, averaging 83 points per game. Only Michigan State and Gonzaga averaged more. At least four of Maryland's players reached double digits in scoring in all three games.

In fact, the Terps were among the top three teams in every offensive category, including second in field-goal percentage (.484) and second in three-point field-goal percentage (.400).

"We know any day anybody on our team can lead us in scoring," McCray said. "We can score with anybody in the country, but once we start working back in practice, working on our defense and helping each other out, we're going to be a great team."

Maryland finished fifth in the tournament in scoring defense, allowing 73 points per game. And the only team worse in three-point field-goal percentage defense was Chaminade.

The Terps averaged 11 steals per game, though, second only to Arizona, and led the tournament in rebound defense with 29.7 per game.

This time, McCray was the one who put it into perspective.

"Only like five teams ever in the NCAA went the whole year undefeated, so we know we're going to have our ups and downs," he said.

"We're going to have our good wins and our bad losses. At the same time, tournaments like this are good for you because you can come back the next day and get that loss off your shoulders and walk around with your head back up."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

Nicholls State@No. 23 Maryland

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