- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Maryland’s defense carried it through the darkest moments of the season.

With the offense playing far better of late, the Terrapins hope their work at the other end of the floor remains a pillar of an NCAA tournament push in the next five weeks.

“We’ve always played good defense from the beginning of the year to the end,” senior forward James Gist said. “In the beginning of the year, it was just a matter of our offense not clicking, and we couldn’t score as much. Now that we’re scoring more, the defense is just playing its role.”

And it will be an important one for the Terps (14-8, 4-3 ACC) when they visit Boston College (12-8, 3-4) tonight at Conte Forum.

Maryland’s defense has become a bit more porous since entering a conference play, a natural development stemming from a greater level of competition. Three of the Terps’ last four opponents have scored at least 80 points after Maryland ceded that much only three times in their first 18 games.

A closer look, however, shows the Terps still rank 14th in the country in field goal percentage defense (.380). That figure also leads the ACC, as do Maryland’s 3-point field goal percentage defense (.299) and blocked shots (6.95).

Yet coach Gary Williams, who will seek his 600th career victory tonight, was disturbed his team suffered as many defensive lapses as it did in Saturday’s 88-86 victory at Georgia Tech.

“I thought we were OK defensively,” Williams said. “Teams get better offensively as the year goes on. Our defense has gotten and still [gets] some good stretches in the game. I wasn’t happy at all with our defense in the second half against Georgia Tech. I really thought we were not aggressive enough, and it really showed up.”

Nevertheless, Maryland still ranks 34th in the country in defensive efficiency, a metric measuring points allowed every 100 possessions, according to kenpom.com. Among ACC teams, only Duke, Virginia Tech and North Carolina — the three teams above the Terps in the conference standings — rank higher.

Shoring up any shortcomings exposed Saturday could be vital to containing Boston College point guard Tyrese Rice, who ranks second in the conference at 19.8 points a game.

“We have to get back to playing 40 minutes of defense,” Williams said. “You’re playing a team with one of the better guards — if not in the country, then in the ACC.”

Rice scored 19 points (11 from the foul line) in the Eagles’ victory at Comcast Center nearly two months ago, a game that featured a technical foul on Greivis Vasquez with 10:30 left.

It was Vasquez’s fifth foul, and the Eagles needed only 30 seconds to erase a four-point deficit and take the lead for good.

Afterward, Vasquez insisted “we’re a better team than they are,” though it didn’t seem that way in the next two weeks. The setback ignited a three-game losing streak that also featured home losses to Ohio and American.

Now, the Terps can respond with a road victory of their own against the reeling Eagles, who have lost four straight.

“Personally, that’s something I’ve had in my mind since we lost that game,” Gist said. “We have another chance when we go back up to Boston College and play them. That’s a win I’m looking to get.”

Today’s game

MARYLAND (14-8, 4-3 ACC) AT BOSTON COLLEGE (12-8, 3-4)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

TV/radio: ESPNU, FM-106.7, AM-1300, FM-105.7

Outlook: Series tied 4-4. Boston College won the Dec. 9 meeting at Comcast Center 81-78. Maryland has won eight of its last 10 outings, a stretch during which James Gist has scored in double figures each game and averaged 18.3 points and 8.6 rebounds. He will be forced to contend with Boston College forward Tyrelle Blair, who averages a conference-best 4.05 blocks and swatted 11 shots against the Terps earlier this season. Boston College has lost four straight, its longest skid since dropping four straight in 2002-03.

Patrick Stevens

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