- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

Maryland needs to look back only as far as last season for a reason to remain positive after a two-game slide against elite ACC teams.

Tuesday night’s 81-66 loss at No.3 Wake Forest, which came three days after a 109-75 pounding at No.4 North Carolina, marked the second straight season in which Maryland has been outclassed by conference heavyweights in the early going. However, the Terps (9-4, 1-2 ACC) outscored the Demon Deacons 40-34 in the second half, suggesting Maryland could forge another late run against some of the lesser conference teams.

Maryland rallied from a 1-3 conference start last season to finish 7-9, then won the ACC tournament and came within a basket of reaching the Sweet 16.

“[Right now] we’re not at the best that Maryland basketball will be this year,” forward Nik Caner-Medley said. “I’m sure we’ll look back and say [playing North Carolina and Wake Forest within four days] really made us a better team.”

The ACC has split into the elite four — Wake Forest, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Duke — and the rest. Maryland plays only six games against the top teams under the new unbalanced ACC schedule, with single contests against Wake Forest and No.9 Georgia Tech.

Injuries have made No.5 Duke vulnerable. And North Carolina makes a return visit to Comcast Center in late February, when Maryland teams often have peaked before the March tournaments.

Maryland might have to win seven of its 10 games against the rest of the league to earn an NCAA bid if it fails to upset any of the top teams. If the Terps sweep Virginia Tech and beat Clemson, N.C. State and Virginia at home to go along with their victory in their ACC opener against Florida State, they might need only to beat Miami to reach their 12th straight NCAA tournament.

The Terps should fare better during a three-game homestand. Maryland plays its final nonconference game against Temple on Saturday before resuming ACC play against Virginia and N.C. State next week.

Maryland has several glaring problems to solve, though. The Terps made just three of 36 3-point attempts in the two defeats, last season’s free throw woes have resurfaced and the defense allowed large first-half runs in both losses.

“We’re not playing with the intensity level necessary for us to be successful against Carolina and Wake,” coach Gary Williams said. “Sometimes your young guys have to pick up the veteran players. Hopefully, that can happen for us.”

Williams said the loss of departed center Jamar Smith has left Maryland without an inside presence to help generate outside offense. Though Caner-Medley led the Terps with 21 points against the Demon Deacons and forward Travis Garrison has improved in recent games, forward Ekene Ibekwe has been erratic. Wake Forest’s 51-36 rebounding edge fueled a 16-3 run that closed the first half and sealed the game.

Overall, the 3-point shooting has been abysmal (30 percent for the season). Guard Mike Jones’ uncontested 3-pointer against Wake Forest was the only conversion in 14 attempts.

“We’re open for volunteers,” Williams said jokingly. “We’re not a good shooting team right now. Guys like Nik Caner-Medley and Chris McCray we expect to be good shooters. They’re not shooting well right now.”

But Caner-Medley expects strong outside shooting to return when the Terps’ confidence does.

“We just have to shoot the ball and be confident it will go in,” he said. “That will turn around. That’s not the main problem right now. The main problem is more consistently running our offense and consistently playing great defense.”

Note — Williams said guard John Gilchrist played only nine minutes against Wake Forest because back and wrist injuries appeared to limit him. Gilchrist missed the opening 6:16 because of academic troubles, then scored only two points before leaving the game shortly before halftime. Gilchrist claimed he could have played through the injuries.

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