Saturday, February 21, 2004

Another night of standing around on offense. Another game of routinely getting beaten in transition for easy layups. Another contest in which effort was lacking at critical moments.

It has been a season on the blink for Maryland, which has been a NCAA tournament staple for more than a decade. The Terrapins enter their final five games of the regular season in serious jeopardy of missing the tournament.

Maryland’s 11-point loss to 18th-ranked Georgia Tech on Wednesday at Comcast Center was an all too typical performance for these Terps, who dropped to 4-7 in the ACC and remained seventh in the standings.

Maryland (13-9 overall) has mastered the art of falling far behind, rallying and falling short in the end. That was true in its loss at North Carolina, and the prognosis will be even bleaker when the Terps visit third-ranked Duke tomorrow.

It is unclear how much Maryland has improved since the preseason began four months ago.

“I am trying to get the best out of these guys this year,” coach Gary Williams said. “It is very important for them to know that everything is not OK because we are working towards next year. We want to win as many games as we can this year. I made that clear in September when we had our first meeting.”

Maryland is a horrid shooting team — last in the ACC at 43.8 percent — and is an adventure at the foul line at an embarrassing 61.1 percent. Players seem confused and impatient on offense. Passing is a particular weakness. Defensive breakdowns have been commonplace, especially in transition.

“It is just a bad year to be young in the league,” said ESPN’s Mike Patrick, referring to the eight freshmen and sophomores in the Terps’ nine-man rotation. “If you make young mistakes like they do, it will kill you. They don’t handle the ball well. If you give Georgia Tech easy baskets, they are going to beat you.”

The offense routinely breaks down, and there is no go-to guy, especially when sophomore point guard John Gilchrist is off like he was against Georgia Tech (1-for-7 shooting, four points). Not that he had much help. The team made three of 20 3-pointers and 32 percent of its field goals. Jamar Smith, Maryland’s top inside player and only senior, made one of 12 shots and finished with a season-low two points.

“You have to put the ball in the basket at some point,” Williams said.

Shooting guard Chris McCray has become a defensive stopper but a major offensive disappointment. The sophomore, who follows outstanding predecessors Steve Francis, Juan Dixon and Drew Nicholas, is fourth on the team in scoring at 10.1 points and is a gun-shy shooter with waning confidence. Opponents regularly pack a zone defense, knowing Maryland has no consistent deep threats other than seldom-used freshman Mike Jones.

Defense, rebounding and general hustle kept Maryland in games until recently. Georgia Tech shot 51 percent from the floor after North Carolina shredded the Terps for 55 first-half points and shot 55 percent overall. The Tar Heels ran past Maryland for easy layups, and the Yellow Jackets outscored the Terps 14-2 in fastbreak points.

“We didn’t play hard the whole time,” Smith said of the latter game.

The trademarks of Williams’ teams usually are toughness and intensity, aspects shown only intermittently this season. That was evident against Georgia Tech when Maryland failed to get back on defense as Jarrett Jack delivered uncontested back-to-back 3-pointers that moved a seven-point lead to 13 midway through the second half.

Georgia Tech was supposed to be a turning point as Maryland started a stretch with four home games in its final six. The Terps are the only ACC squad with a losing conference record (2-3) at home.

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