- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Jamar Smith has gone from rising star to forgotten man. Now Maryland hopes its one-time inside force will rediscover his game and help salvage fast-fading NCAA tournament hopes.

The Terps’ only senior had a 25-point, 12-rebound performance in an early-season win over Wisconsin. The 6-foot-8 senior registered double-doubles in seven of the Terrapins first eight games, including a 14-point, 12-rebound showing in an upset at then-No.1 Florida.

Smith, however, was anything but productive in Saturday’s loss against Wake Forest. Maryland coach Gary Williams pulled him after a mental miscue early in the second half and he sat the final 19 minutes. The expected centerpiece of this season’s team recorded no points or rebounds in eight minutes against the 11th-ranked Demon Deacons before freshman Hassan Fofana took his place.

“He’s frustrated,” Maryland guard Chris McCray said. “Early in the season he was having 20-point games, 15 rebounds. He’s the senior, so he’s got to lead this team. He hasn’t been doing that lately. Hopefully this will be a breakout game right here.”

Though many Terps have struggled in a late-season swoon that likely will leave them out of the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 seasons, Smith has gone from looking like an all-conference player to the demoralized face of a team in freefall. He has recorded one double-double in 14 conference games and is averaging 4.3 points while shooting 28 percent (seven of 25) the past four games.

Williams has questioned Smith’s desire but said he will start him tonight in a critical game at 14th-ranked N.C. State.

“He’s important to us,” said Williams, who also has used freshman Ekene Ibekwe in the post. “He is going against some real good inside players. You look at Duke. You look at Georgia Tech. You look at Carolina. They each have one or two guys that are among the top 20 inside players in the country. Sometimes Jamar gets outsized. He’s 6-8, but that’s all he is. He is not 6-10 or whatever. He has got to use his quickness as a way to counter what he can do.”

Smith used footwork to beat larger centers for easy scores and rebounds early in the season. He had a 22-point, nine-rebound performance in dominating North Carolina center Sean May on Jan.14.

The Terps (14-11, 5-9 ACC) will need to sweep their final two games, including Sunday’s home game with Virginia, to have any realistic chance of earning an NCAA at-large bid. Maryland has lost four of five and seven straight to ranked opponents, and will require at least one more win to stay out of the conference “play-in” game in next week’s ACC tournament. The Terps are half a game behind seventh-place Virginia, which beat Wake Forest last night.

The Wolfpack (18-7, 10-4) are a surprising second in the ACC, and are playing for a high seed in the NCAA tournament. N.C. State has a versatile team where all starters are outside threats. ACC Player of the Year candidate Julius Hodge (17.8 points, league-leading 49.3 field-goal percentage) leads the Princeton-style offense, which routinely wears defenses down before finishing with a backbreaking backdoor layup.

N.C. State was 14-0 at home this season before North Carolina upset it at RBC Center Sunday. The Wolfpack often live on 3-pointers, and made only 23.5 percent (eight of 34) against the Tar Heels. N.C. State could be short-handed as guard Scooter Sherill (10.5 points) is questionable with a sprained ankle.

The Terps look to counter with tight defense and getting back in transition, where the Wolfpack feast on open 3-pointers. On offense, Maryland would like to return to the basics of going inside-out, and that starts with Smith. The center had 21 points on nine of 15 shooting against the Wolfpack in a Feb.1 loss in College Park.

“Jamar is the catalyst for this team basically,” Terps point guard John Gilchrist said. “When he plays well, we do well. I think that is going to be one of the main focal points; to get him going. He has really been focused in practice this week.”

Williams has prodded and benched his center. Teammates have tried to urge the laid-back Smith to be more aggressive and demonstrative. As Smith’s career winds down, the Terps are banking on a strong finish.

“You can’t get up and force [teammates] to play a different type of game,” Gilchrist said. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t go hard. I believe he will play well. He is very important for our team.”

Note — Williams left open the possibility that D.J. Strawberry could start a third consecutive game ahead of McCray. McCray has played his best basketball since being benched, which came as punishment following a verbal confrontation on the sideline with Maryland coaches in a game at Duke. The sophomore has made 12 of 21 shots since the incident, with a career-high 18 points against Wake Forest.

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