Terps try to offset loss

Scoring no problem, but defense slipping with McCray gone

February 02, 2006|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

COLLEGE PARK -- After strong back-to-back performances from junior guard Mike Jones and senior forward Nik Caner-Medley, the Maryland men's basketball team proved quickly that it can still score - even without its leading scorer.

Instead, the Terps have found themselves trying to compensate for former guard Chris McCray's defensive presence.

The Terps (14-5, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) enter tonight's 7 o'clock game against North Carolina (12-5, 3-3) at Comcast Center with the worst scoring defense in the league, and are trying to rebound from an unexpected loss to Temple in which they allowed a season-high 91 points.

"Chris was a great defender, playing the other teams' best guards," junior guard D.J. Strawberry said. "You just have to adjust. People have to step up and just try to stop people. We've been working on it a lot in practice and we're getting better at it."

One player who has improved defensively is Jones, who moved into the starting lineup two games ago after McCray was declared academically ineligible. Jones has averaged 17.5 points in his new role. He also has made 13 of 21 three-pointers (61.9 percent) in the past four games and made 13 straight free throws.

Maryland coach Gary Williams yesterday called Jones the second-best open shooter in the ACC - second only, probably, to Duke's J.J. Redick, who is averaging 27.8 points.

"I wouldn't mind saying that," Williams said. " ... As time goes by, if he continues to shoot like he is, I don't think that's overstating the issue."

Jones said he naturally focuses more on shooting than he does defense.

"In this situation I feel I have to mix it up a little more, get more active on the defensive end, get in the passing lanes," said Jones, who made a school-record seven three-pointers against Temple. "That's the type of team we are - we like to get in passing lanes, get a couple steals, fast-break points - that's what we lacked the past game."

While Maryland leads the ACC in scoring, it's allowing opponents 71.8 points a game. Scoring defense is a statistical category, though, that Williams said he doesn't give much credence to. The Owls' final 11 points came from the free-throw line.

"The team that wins the national championship every year doesn't usually lead the country in defensive scoring average," Williams said. "You can play an 80-70 game and play great defense if the other team is a good team and they like to run, or you can play 50-40 and say you're a great defensive team. I don't think we're ever going to be the leading team in the country in defensive scoring."

What Williams said he does pay attention to is field-goal percentage defense, and the Terps are ninth in the ACC at .423.

"We have to contest shots better, but that's something you can work on and we've been working on it since we got back from Temple," he said, "so I expect to play better defense."

They're going to have to against North Carolina freshman forward Tyler Hansbrough, who is shooting 61 percent from the field this season and leading the Tar Heels with 18.2 points and 7.6 rebounds a game.

Much was made this preseason about North Carolina losing its top seven scorers from last season, but Hansbrough has made an impact early. He scored 20 points in the Tar Heels' win against N.C. State on Jan. 7, including 14 of 14 from the free- throw line.

"He definitely doesn't play like a freshman," Strawberry said. "He goes after every ball. He's a beast in the post. We're definitely going to have to stop him in order to win this game. We know he's their main component and they're trying to get the ball every time. We just have to do something to try to stop him."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

North Carolina @Maryland Tonight, 7, ESPN, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM Line: Maryland by 2 1/2

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