- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

It wasn’t long after reporters stampeded into Cameron Indoor Stadium’s cramped, creaky and musty visitors’ locker room late Wednesday night before Maryland senior Nik Caner-Medley was asked what just about anyone who watched the Terrapins’ 76-52 loss wondered at some point:

Is there concern the Terps’ season is getting away from them less than a quarter of the way into ACC play?

“Probably for you, but for us, we’re probably just going to keep on working hard and continue to try to get better,” Caner-Medley said.

Losing at Duke usually will not provoke a clarion call for self-assessment. Teams are often run out of Cameron by a program that has reached 10 Final Fours and won three national titles in the last two decades.

Maryland (11-4, 1-2 ACC) hasn’t endured as much misery in Durham as others — three wins in its last seven games at Duke — and in that light, the shellacking qualifies as a bit surprising. More disturbing, however, is the manner in which the Terps fell behind early and could never recover.

There was Duke’s 7-0 run to open the game, a stretch reminiscent of Miami’s 13-0 start against the Terps en route to a victory Saturday. The Maryland offense was inert, plagued by shoddy passing and frequent fumbling of the few passes that made it inside, and the Terps’ perimeter defense was shoddy. The struggles prompted coach Gary Williams to deliver a simple message to his players after the game.

“He just said ‘We’re better than this,’” senior forward Travis Garrison said. “We don’t play like that, we don’t play like that at all. We weren’t playing our game at all.”

The final box score featured an abundance of idiosyncratic statistics that were difficult to fathom on their own, let alone as an amalgam. Maryland had six assists against 29 turnovers, and no player had more than one assist. The Terps made only five more field goal attempts (19) than they had swatted away (14), shot an anemic 30.2 percent and tied for the third-lowest scoring output in Williams’ 17 seasons in College Park.

Add to it a triple-double for Duke’s Shelden Williams, the first in a game between ACC teams since Tim Duncan had one against Maryland in 1996, and the Terps’ sobering night was complete.

“We didn’t do it tonight, but it doesn’t mean we are a bad basketball team because a lot of teams that were ranked higher than us couldn’t get it done,” said Gary Williams, who pointed out Duke delivered a similar demolition to then-No.2 Texas last month.

While the Terps aren’t doomed to languish in the bottom half of the league just because of two ugly losses, the shaky return to conference play has raised questions about a team whose singular motivation at the start of the season was to return the program to the NCAA tournament after missing it for the first time in a dozen years last spring.

Any such worries seemed silly a month ago, when Maryland was coming off an emotional defeat of then-No.6 Boston College in the ACC opener for both schools. It looked like it would be a victory the Terps could treasure until Selection Sunday, but the Eagles are 0-3 in conference play in their first season in the league. Arkansas, arguably the second-best team the Terps have defeated, is already 0-2 in the SEC.

That leaves it to the Terps to reverse the play of the last two games, starting with Sunday’s visit from struggling Wake Forest (11-4, 0-2). Virginia Tech (10-6, 0-3) comes to Comcast Center Jan.21, followed by trips to Georgia Tech and Temple to complete a four-game stretch that could determine what direction the Terps’ season will go.

“We have to win on Sunday,” junior point guard D.J. Strawberry said. “We have two games at home, and in the ACC you definitely have to defend your home court. We have to figure out a way to win. We’re just going to go home and figure out what we have to do because we have to make some changes and we have to do some things to make our team better.”

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