- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

It was a simple 5-footer, but the two points proved priceless. Maryland center Will Bowers showed he could wiggle past an opponent, and the Terrapins suddenly found an inside presence in Wednesday night’s 75-66 victory over No.2 Duke.

“No one really expects that much of me, especially opposing teams,” Bowers said yesterday. “I just come in to play the best defense I can and rebound and play really hard.”

And even score a few points. Maryland (12-5, 3-3 ACC) now has its own 7-foot-1 banger to match 7-1 Georgia Tech center Luke Schenscher when the No.22 Yellow Jackets (12-5, 3-3) visit Comcast Center tonight. Bowers may start his second straight game just two months after barely leaving the bench.

Although Bowers might not be the Terps’ next breakout player, his rise is remarkable. After averaging 0.8 points and 1.2 rebounds last season with nearly as many fouls (20) as rebounds (22), Bowers is doing all the little things like setting picks and passing to open shooters as well as rebounding and even scoring.

“Big guys can change in a couple months,” coach Gary Williams said. “They get their coordination later than guards sometimes. When recruiting a guard, I try to project if he doesn’t get any better, is he good enough? When you recruit a big guy, you try to project where he’ll improve.”

When center Hassan Fofana departed in December because of a lack of playing time, his minutes went to Bowers, whose confidence has been boosted by the extra time.

“When Hassan left, it was like, ‘I have to play now,’” Bowers said.

Teammates always raved over Bowers’ ability in practice, but it rarely carried over into games. After gaining double-digit minutes for the first time, he collected seven rebounds against Liberty and six against Mount St. Mary’s.

“A player has to get to that point before he can be a good player,” Williams said. “He had to feel his way last year. Now he understand with his size if he goes hard, he can be successful.”

Bowers conceded having doubts last season whether he could play regularly. Of the only three previous 7-footers at Maryland, only Mike Mardesich lasted more than one season.

“Last year people would jump over me and run around me,” Bowers said. “Mentally, it’s kind of hard to believe in yourself and believe you belong out there when you just get thrown in there and make a mistake in the first minute and get pulled. … It just felt like everything was going so fast, but this year everything has slowed down.”

Bowers reminds Williams of Mardesich, a reserve from 1998 to 2001 who is now playing professionally in Europe. Williams also watched Schenscher while deciding whether to recruit Bowers, an overlooked high school teammate of acclaimed forward Rudy Gay, who chose Connecticut over Maryland. Schenscher averaged only 3.0 points and 2.8 rebounds as a sophomore, nearly the same as Bowers’ 2.1 and 2.9, then helped Georgia Tech to the national championship game last year.

“It’s encouraging to me to see a guy built like me and a game similar to mine be a force in the ACC,” Bowers said. “I’ll try to wear him down a bit. He’s a big part of their offense, so I’ll try to play him physically.”

Williams conceded he took a gamble by starting Bowers against Duke but felt the Terps needed changes after a terrible start in the previous game, a 16-point home loss to N.C. State. Bowers opened by playing more than eight minutes in his longest stint of the season and finished with seven rebounds, four points and two blocks in a career-high 23 minutes. Getting his first start at Cameron Indoor Stadium didn’t prove unnerving.

“It’s a lot easier when you know you’re going to be out on the court, rather than not knowing if you’re going to be put in or when,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to play when you feel like you belong with everybody else.”

Said Maryland forward Nik Caner-Medley: “Will is a very laid-back person. I had no sense of him being nervous before the game.”

The Terps’ confidence has grown with Bowers’ rise. Beating Georgia Tech in their only meeting this season could enable Maryland to return to the Top 25 after a month’s absence.

“Our confidence is ridiculous right now,” forward Travis Garrison said. “We know how good we can be. For us to go down from here would be a shame. … I’m anxious to see how we play.”

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