Season of giving: This year's Terps are overachievers

maryland men's basketball

December 27, 2008|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK - Dave Neal and his fellow Terrapins know what fans and the media were saying about them before the basketball season began.

They know Maryland, which has missed the NCAA tournament three of the past four seasons, was selected by pundits to finish at or near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference after losing shot blockers and double-digit scorers James Gist and Bambale Osby to graduation.

At least so far, the Terrapins have managed to use all those gloomy predictions as incentive. More than last season - when the Terps slumbered through early losses to American and Ohio University - this year's team seems capable of overachieving.

"People have been talking down about us, so we kind of used that in the preseason as motivation," said Neal, a senior forward. "I feel like this year's team's got some kind of killer instinct."

The difference from last season is striking. Despite losing Gist (15.9 points per game) and Osby (11.5 points), Maryland, which hosts Bryant today at Comcast Center, is putting away the sorts of mid-major teams that memorably gave it fits last year.

Last season, the Terps lost to American, Ohio and Virginia Commonwealth and narrowly beat Hampton and Northeastern. This season's team has won four in a row. The Terps haven't trailed in a game since being down 4-2 in the opening minutes of their 76-53 victory over George Washington on Dec. 7.

More than last season's team, this Terps squad seems to have bought in to coach Gary Williams and his system.

Williams has always fared well with scrappy players motivated enough to overachieve. Even Maryland's 2002 national championship team was not composed of blue-chip athletes, but rather of players who needed seasoning.

No one is suggesting this season's team is of Final Four caliber. Many fans would be satisfied with simply making the NCAA tournament.

But at least the players seem to be more invested in the results than last season's 19-15 team.

"This is a different team," junior guard Greivis Vasquez said after the Terps avenged one of last year's worst losses with a 67-51 victory over American on Monday night. "We play harder and better defense than last year."

The Terps, who don't begin their ACC schedule until Jan. 10 against Georgia Tech, have beaten Big Ten foes Michigan State and Michigan.

After losing top rebounders Gist and Osby, this season's group plays a different style from last season's. The most noticeable difference is the defensive pressure. "I think we're pressing a lot more this year," Neal said. "We're not a shot-blocking team, but we're getting a lot of steals. To be honest with you, we're playing harder than we did last year for 40 minutes a game."

Entering the American game, Maryland was 22nd of 330 schools nationally in three-point field-goal defense. The Terps were 32nd in turnover margin.

NOTE:: Bryant, which is transitioning to Division I, has lost seven games in a row. The Bulldogs were routed, 91-64, by Providence on Monday night. Maryand beat Bryant, 100-85, in a 2004 exhibition game the last time the teams met.

BRYANT (1-9) @MARYLAND (8-2)

Today, 2 p.m.

Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM

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