- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Maryland's Lonny Baxter is still nursing a sprained ankle. North Carolina only wishes its ailments were limited to one body part.
The status of the fourth-ranked Terrapins' star center is in question for tonight's game with the Tar Heels at Cole Field House. Baxter sat out last Thursday's win over Norfolk State after spraining his right ankle New Year's Day. Baxter, who is averaging 14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds, returned to practice Monday and was walking gingerly while warming up for practice yesterday.
"If he can go in there and mix it up, we'll probably go with our same starting regular lineup," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday afternoon. "But that's an if if he can do it."
There is a good chance Tahj Holden will get his second start at center, with Baxter coming off the bench. A limited Baxter would also mean more minutes for reserve forward and junior college transfer Ryan Randle.
The absence of Baxter with the Terps (11-2, 1-0 ACC) might be one of the few breaks in a season of horrors for the recently powerful Tar Heels. North Carolina (5-6, 1-1) is coming off its worst loss in the 17-year history of the Dean Smith Center, when it was humiliated 84-62 by No. 23 Wake Forest last Saturday. That lopsided loss was the latest embarrassment for Michael Jordan's alma mater, which has also suffered unimaginable losses to Hampton and Davidson in Chapel Hill.
"It's very shocking," said Tar Heels point guard Melvin Scott, who has been starting as a freshman. "I never thought we'd be .500 with all the tradition we have here. We have so many high standards. It's a lot of pressure."
North Carolina is a vastly different team than the squad ranked No. 1 and in the midst of an 18-game winning streak when it blew out Maryland last February to sweep the season series. The Tar Heels lost four key components, and only one senior in current Washington Wizards center Brendan Haywood. Shooting guard Joseph Forte bolted for the NBA, while starting point guard Ronald Curry and reserve big man Julius Peppers now are exclusively with the football team. Peppers has said he plans to declare for the NFL Draft and will likely be the top overall pick, while Curry's future and possible return is less clear.
Two freshmen, Jackie Manuel and Scott, a converted shooting guard from Baltimore, have been starting. North Carolina coach Matt Doherty said sophomore Adam Boone will start at point guard tonight largely because of his big-game experience.
"We turn the ball over," said Doherty, whose team was pressured into 21 turnovers by the Demon Deacons. "We're not a great shooting team [42 percent]. We're not a great rebounding team. Those are pretty vital stats in the game of basketball. Some of that has to do with experience."
North Carolina's struggles have brought several impressive streaks into jeopardy. The Tar Heels have made 27 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, and have posted 31 straight 20-win seasons. Perhaps the most impressive run is 37 seasons finishing among the top three in the ACC.
"I don't have time to think about that," said North Carolina's Jason Capel, who has inherited the leadership role. "We have to worry about the job at hand. If I start thinking about that, I'll be really depressed."
Capel usually deferred to Forte on offense last season, but has been thrust into the role as scoring catalyst. The 6-8 senior swingman is averaging 16.1 points, but shooting just 40 percent and making 24 percent of his 3s. Capel, who also leads the team by averaging 10.9 rebounds, is one of only two major contributors back from last season, along with senior center Kris Lang (12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds).
Wake Forest applied constant defensive pressure that wore the Tar Heels down. Doherty got so frustrated he shattered a clipboard on the Dean Dome floor in disgust.
"We were heading in the right direction," said Doherty, referencing a modest three-game win streak before the Wake debacle. "I knew we obviously had to play well to have any chance to beat Wake Forest. But we didn't even play well. That was the disappointing thing."
The Tar Heels defeated St. Joseph's, North Carolina A&T; and Texas A&M; before being tossed back into their tailspin. The Maryland players gathered together on Saturday to watch the Wake Forest game, and Doherty could imagine what they were thinking.
"They had six days [off] to sit back and salivate," the North Carolina coach said. "I expect them to come out with a lot of energy."


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