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Terps stay patient with inside game

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

Full-fledged routs tend not to lend themselves to tension. If things are going especially well, perhaps there's the anticipation of reaching 100 points. When it's a home game, there's a cheer waiting for the walk-on at the end of the bench when he jogs to the scorers' table.

Maryland offered a different twist Tuesday, waiting until the final two minutes before one of its true big men scored in a blowout of Youngstown State.

While it is difficult to quibble with a pair of easy victories to start the season, the Terrapins (2-0) will eventually need a modicum of offense from an interior group including starter Braxton Dupree and reserves Jerome Burney, Dino Gregory, Steve Goins and Dave Neal.

After those five combined for 17 points in two early pummelings, it might be some time before that scoring punch arrives.

“You stay with it,” said coach Gary Williams, whose Terps play host to Vermont (1-1) on Friday. “Sometimes you don't know the day or the practice when the light bulb goes on. It happens all the sudden. It's like playing good defense. Somewhere along the line, everybody buys into it, so we're going to try that with our inside players.”

A low-scoring rotation of big men is no surprise. With James Gist and Bambale Osby gone and three perimeter starters returning, there was never a question the Terps' backcourt would assume much of the scoring onus.

Then again, frontcourt scoring doesn't seem to be a major priority at this stage. The five true bigs (a group that excludes perimeter-oriented forwards Jin Soo Kim and Landon Milbourne) combined to shoot 1-for-5 with no trips to the foul line in 60 minutes Tuesday.

“I don't think it's as much of an emphasis as it was last year, because we had James and Boom,” Burney said. “It's just a real guard-oriented team, and that's where most of our points are going to come from. I know as a post man, most of my points are going to come off drop-off passes, dunks, putbacks and things like that. I'm not too worried about my scoring.”

Neither, it appears, is the coaching staff. Burney said assistant Keith Booth's mantra remains to worry about defense and rebounding and figure that scoring will eventually arrive, though the bigs managed only seven rebounds against Youngstown State.

Some patience is understandable considering how seldom much of the frontcourt played last year. Burney and Gregory both spent long stretches of the season on the bench, and Dupree's minutes dropped precipitously once ACC play arrived. Neal, the only upperclassman of the bunch, played at least 10 minutes only seven times last year.

“It's kind of a learning process,” Gregory said. “You get better as you go on. You look at other teams around the nation and they're kind of struggling, too. We're not really struggling. It's an early point in the season, so we'll get better.”

If not, the Terps' best hope for interior scoring will probably come from a set of slashing options from the outside.

Greivis Vasquez is capable of working into the paint for a shot, and much of Adrian Bowie's game is predicated on slashing to the basket. Both Milbourne and Cliff Tucker possess skill sets suited for scoring both outside and inside, and those tendencies can be a cushion if more-traditional inside options don't emerge.

“We really have four guards,” Tucker said. “Landon's not really a big man, he's a guard. I think that's where most of the points [have to come from]. We're going to have to drive because we only have one big man.”

Williams frequently mentions Duke as a team that in the last few years has survived nicely without a burly post presence who scores consistently. Yet there's little question that matters would become much easier for Maryland if one of its forwards evolved into a steady offensive option.

“I think any team likes to score inside, but if we can't score inside that doesn't mean we can't be a good team,” Williams said. “We just have to figure out ways to do that.”