- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Maryland basketball team that could do no wrong in the first month of the season suddenly has a lot to work on in the month before it resumes ACC play.

The Terrapins have tumbled from the rankings, a brief slide accompanied by a decline in assists, a rise in turnovers and a spike in both impatient play and shaky decision-making.

Maryland’s losses to Notre Dame (which poked into the top 25 this week) and Boston College (a once and probably future ranked team) might not have any lasting ramifications on a team reliant on a still-maturing backcourt.

However, which form the Terps (9-2) opt to emulate — the spunkiness evident during an eight-game winning streak or the inconsistency of the last two weeks — in a four-week stretch of nonconference games starting with tonight’s visit from Missouri-Kansas City (3-7) could establish the tenor of the rest of the season.

“The first eight we were playing real hard, and we were up for every game and having a lot of fun out on the court,” freshman point guard Eric Hayes said yesterday. “I think we got away from that our last three games after our win at Illinois. We kind of got caught up in the moment a little bit.”

That reverie is likely over, especially after Sunday’s loss to Boston College in the conference opener for both teams. Like in the Notre Dame setback a week earlier, the Terps were pushed around inside by a physical team.

There were other glaring issues. The Terps managed only nine assists against the Eagles, less than half of their average (18.7) when they win. Maryland also misfired on several passes, with the ball ending up on the sideline or heading the opposite direction on a fast break with disturbing frequency.

The woes accumulated over three games, all of which have featured more turnovers than assists. The Terps have 60 turnovers in that stretch, with 23 coming from their post players. Even when the passes were completed against Boston College, the Terps still suffered from shaky shot selection, hoisting 37 attempts in the second half alone.

“We definitely could have won the game, but certain things happened that shouldn’t have happened as far as turnovers,” guard Mike Jones said after Sunday’s game. “Guys were probably in a rush to make plays. That’s the only thing I can really probably say about that.”

Added coach Gary Williams: “One of the things is we have to pass more and dribble less. A lot of our turnovers come off dribble penetration or putting the ball on the floor inside. You have to do it before the defense can collapse, so we’ve been working on that.”

Another problem — theoretically correctable assuming the Terps can play as smart as they did during their winning streak — was an uncanny tendency for fouling in the act of shooting.

Maryland even sent Boston College’s Jared Dudley to the line for three shots on two occasions, a particularly unnerving event since contact is less likely on the perimeter than in the post.

“I told our players I learned that in sixth grade that you don’t foul jump shooters,” Williams said. “It’s about time they learn not to do that.”

Still, as Williams repeatedly pointed out as the Terps rolled up victories last month, it remains early in the season. Maryland doesn’t have another game for 10 days after tonight, owning a solid resume for the first five weeks with improvement needed once ACC play continues Jan. 10 against Miami.

“Whether we were caught up or not, Notre Dame has proven to be a pretty good team as they’ve gone along here and BC’s BC, whatever they are this year,” Williams said. “They’re our two losses. We played 11 games, and we’ve played four against the Big Ten and Big East and one against the ACC. … To be 9-2, I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

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