- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Center Ryan Randle and guard Drew Nicholas are becoming the horns of the Maryland offense.
The No.21 Terrapins (7-3) will continue to build their inside-out attack when they play host to Hampton (6-3) tonight at Comcast Center. Randle has scored 20 or 21 points in three straight games, while Nicholas remains the Terps' leading scorer at 18.3 points. Maryland may have increased its rotation to nine players in the young season, but Randle and Nicholas are the offensive mainstays as the Terps ready for the coming ACC grind, which begins Saturday against Florida State.
"This has always been an inside-outside offense, so I try to counter off what 'Sleepy' does," Nicholas said of Randle. "I'd much rather have an assist and 'Sleepy' getting a dunk than me getting a 3-pointer because it's a higher percentage shot."
Randle, however, claims he's often looking for Nicholas. Randle tied a team-record by converting all 10 shots in a 79-57 victory over Wagner on Saturday, with Nicholas grabbing four assists along with his 13 points. Randle isn't against kicking the ball outside to Nicholas, though.
"The plan is to get the ball in the middle and work from there," Randle said. "In the first half, if Drew's hot, that's who we'll go to, and in the second half, if the ball goes inside, we have to finish it or throw it back out if Drew's hot again."
The Terps are looking for options to counter a mix of ACC defenses that undoubtedly will focus on Randle underneath and force Nicholas into lower-percentage outside shots. Maryland has worked on three-guard schemes involving freshman guard John Gilchrist and a bigger lineup using freshmen forwards Nik Caner-Medley and Travis Garrison, with forward Tahj Holden coming off the bench. The eclectic style has produced the ACC's second leading offense (81.2 points) and the ACC leader in assists (18.5) and 3-point percentage (41.2).
"You just want to be ready so you can go either way," coach Gary Williams said. "You have to have the versatility. I think we're getting there."
Said Nicholas: "A lot of teams struggle early in the year when their first option doesn't work, but we're starting to get to the second parts of plays. That's one of the things we did really well last year."
The Terps are also proving versatile defensively, leading the ACC in blocks (7.0) and steals (12.1). Randle tops both categories for the Terps with 1.8 blocks and 2.1 steals.
"We don't stress [blocks] in practice," Williams said. "We're just there. We have some guys that get up pretty quick."
Randle said the Terps are jelling, with the five newcomers understanding the system better after extensive practices. The Terps have played just three times since Dec.14 but missed only two practices at Christmas. The workouts have diminished by about 45 minutes a day as Williams begins to worry more about the physical challenges than the mental ones.
"They've stopped thinking so much," Randle said of younger players. "I try to tell them just stop thinking and just play."
The newcomers are becoming more integral. Using Garrison as a starter in three straight games allows Tahj Holden more minutes at the end when he's needed. Gilchrist can spell guard Steve Blake, while forward Jamar Smith provides Maryland a fourth rebounder.
"It's given us a chance to try more combinations in practice," Williams said. "The veteran players are more comfortable with them than earlier in the year. You have to find out if your guys are good enough, and once you have that you can start experimenting. Hampton's another look before you get into the ACC."
Indeed, Hampton is the perfect segue into ACC play. The Pirates' upbeat offense and aggressive defense will ready the Terps for conference play.
"They're coming here without any fear," Williams said. "They've earned the right to feel like they deserve to win games. Hampton's not a secret anymore around here."
Notes Guard Calvin McCall is expected to play some after being sidelined two games with a sprained ankle. Former Terps Lonny Baxter (Chicago Bulls) and Juan Dixon (Wizards) attended practice.


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