Terps have reason for optimism despite two losses in New York

Gary Williams finds positives, hopes Maryland has learned lessons from Pittsburgh and Illinois games

November 22, 2010|By Mike Miller, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland men's basketball team is not sulking after dropping both games of last weekend's 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer at Madison Square Garden. Players are not crestfallen, and coaches aren't panicking.

If anything, the Terps are eager to get back into action and correct the mistakes that led to a 79-70 loss to No. 4 Pittsburgh on Friday and an 80-76 loss to No. 13 Illinois on Saturday. Competitive play in both games has Maryland convinced it can beat a top opponent, and when the Terps (3-2) face Delaware State (1-0) tonight at Comcast Center, they'll be set to build off their solid effort in New York.

"We're coming off two games that I think we learned a lot about our team," coach Gary Williams said Monday. "Now we have to, starting with [Sunday's practice], get some of those things that we learned from those games into the way we play and go from there."

Sophomore center Jordan Williams was the highlight of the weekend with 29 points and 21 rebounds in the two-game tournament. His strong inside play was recognized with a selection to the All-Tournament team. But he struggled with early foul trouble in each contest, forcing unproven freshman Haukur Palsson and junior Berend Weijs into action.

"They definitely stepped up and kept us in the game," said Williams, Maryland's leading scorer at 18.4 points per game. "It was tough to sit there and watch. You feel helpless sitting on the side, but they did great. They stayed in there and I was real proud of them."

Gary Williams doesn't place much fault on his center for the early foul trouble. There's a fine line between playing too aggressively and not playing aggressively enough, the coach said, and he believes it's only a matter of time this season before Jordan Williams begins to earn more respect from officials for his work in the paint.

"Let's just say this: There was a lot of contact in both those games that wasn't called fouls," Gary Williams said. "We'll see how it goes from here, but I like the way Jordan played. You cannot let guys push you around in there, and you can't let a guy get position without fighting for it."

Jordan Williams continues to affirm his status as one of the top young frontcourt players in the country, but his play alone cannot be counted on to lead the Terps.

Maryland still lacks a secondary scorer to take pressure off Williams in the paint, and while senior swingman Cliff Tucker scored a team-high 17 points against Pitt and freshman guard Terrell Stoglin scored 17 against Illinois, more consistent efforts will be needed as the Terps tread into their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, which is little more than a month away.

"We can't just rely on Jordan all the time," Tucker said. "Everybody's keying in on him. If he gets in foul trouble, we've got to have someone off the bench or Dino [Gregory] or somebody else to step up and play good."

Gregory, a senior forward, turned in one of the top performances of his career Saturday, posting 10 points and 10 rebounds against the Illini.

"I think the game against Illinois was probably his best game here," Gary Williams said. "It's doing it against people who can play, not guys he's bigger than. I thought he was really good."

The Terps take solace knowing that they were just a few possessions away from stealing at least one victory this weekend. More importantly, players feel they belonged on the court battling against some of the top talent in the country.

That mindset will only help Maryland as the team moves forward.

"I don't always know how we do it, but we score," the coach said. "It doesn't always look pretty, but you don't get any points for being pretty. You get points for putting the ball in the basket and finding a way in the end. We've always been able to do that."

xcxmmiller@baltsun.com

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