- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

The fear of failure was lifted from the Maryland Terrapins. The victory over No.1 Duke on Saturday has suddenly silenced second-guessers and should keep them from panning the Terps' prospects of successfully defending the national championship.
"We made a statement that Maryland isn't going anywhere," center Ryan Randle said after the 87-72 win over the Blue Devils. "This game will enter all my teammates minds [over the season]."
Repeating as titlists remains a long shot, but the victory over Duke rejuvenated Maryland's expectations of playing deep into the NCAA tournament.
A loss, which would have been the Terps' second straight and fifth against ranked teams this season, could have been devastating. The 17th-ranked Terps (10-4) couldn't afford to drop another game and fall toward the middle of the ACC with conference road games at North Carolina and Clemson this week.
Instead of trying to find itself, Maryland found a dominant rebounder in Randle, whose 17 boards against Duke were a career high. Guard Drew Nicholas proved he could lead in a big game and had 24 points. The freshmen showed they could contribute and combined for 20 points off the bench.
"I feel 180 [degrees] from where I felt after Wake Forest," Nicholas said of the 81-72 loss last Wednesday. "This doesn't erase it, but everyone now has a lot more confidence in us."
Said freshman guard John Gilchrist: "It's going to catapult us to the level where we needed to be from the start. This puts us back."
The Terps spent the early season trying to avoid comparisons to last year's team. After all, guard Steve Blake was the only returning starter and forward Tahj Holden and Nicholas went from being key reserves to starters while Randle replaced All-ACC center Lonny Baxter.
This season's freshmen began to surpass seniors as forwards Travis Garrison and Nik Caner-Medley started a few games and guards Chris McCray and Gilchrist saw increased minutes. But coach Gary Williams started five seniors against Duke and expected their championship experience to carry past the 12-0 Blue Devils. Ultimately, the roster jelled and freshmen hit key baskets in relief and the seniors wore down Duke in the second half.
"You can't measure it," Nicholas said of the victory. "Throughout the whole year, people will compare us to last year, but look around at how many different faces we have and those playing new roles. We understand now to play without thinking."
The starting five probably won't remain set for most of the final stretch. Williams has expertly cultivated the young talent and has created mismatches by going 10 deep. If Williams wants to go with a quick lineup then Gilchrist can play the point in a three-guard scheme, forward Jamar Smith can be inserted and used in the frontcourt and Calvin McCall can play small forward. McCray's defensive versatility he has long arms he uses for steals and blocks make him valuable in a small lineup.
"We're that team this year where every guy has to contribute," Williams said. "We're not 'Juan Dixon-Lonny Baxter and the other guys helped us.' Everybody has to do their job this year."
The rise of Gilchrist and McCray has been especially interesting. Gilchrist is averaging 15 minutes and McCray 11 behind Blake and Nicholas. The newcomers make typical freshman mistakes, but they also have proved to be fearless and productive in close games. Gilchrist twice split a Duke zone for layups as Maryland nursed a one- or two-point lead. McCray sank a 10-footer and four free throws late and added a block and a steal. Their emergence helps compensate for not having a steady small forward.
"I'm at the point now where I'll throw them in any situation," Williams said. "Steve and Drew have to be our leaders, but you have to have a backup point guard who can really play. I think John can be good. He thinks he's really good right now."
Said Nicholas: "We're trying to get them to where we know what to expect. Hopefully, after this we're going to expect them to keep playing well."
The remaining challenge for Maryland is winning on the road. The Terps looked lost at Wake Forest, and Joel Coliseum isn't even one of the more hostile arenas along Tobacco Road. The Terps lost their composure late against Indiana in a "neutral" site in Indianapolis and lost in overtime. Now Maryland has seven of its last 13 games away from Comcast Center where it's 9-1. If the Terps hope to make a long run in March, they must become road warriors.
"It's time to go down there and steal wins," Nicholas said.


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