- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

DENVER. — The Maryland Terrapins are looking to deflate the other-worldly presence of Syracuse’s Gerry McNamara today.

Earth to McNamara: Your 43-point gem in the first round of the NCAA tournament exceeded the oxygen-depleted limits of the Mile High air and the temperance of the balance-obsessed coaching fraternity.

McNamara came out of next to nowhere, the last stop on the recruiting trail after Scranton, Pa. McNamara hit nine of 13 3-point attempts against Brigham Young, a few that mocked commonly held defensive principles.

That was one game not likely to happen again, the reassuring notion providing sustenance to Gary Williams and the Terps.

Williams dropped his harried form in the anointed seat of the NCAA yesterday, in the stilted set-up that stresses the informational exchange. The innocuous manner of the strangers is considered misleading to those judged on wins and press clippings.

“I don’t think you have to be a basketball coach to know you have to stop McNamara,” Williams said, voicing the prevailing article of faith of the national press. “His was one of the great shows I’ve ever seen, a tremendous performance. You look at that and you would like to think you could do a few things to stop that.”

A one-man gang is the rarest of birds in college basketball today, if only for one game, as McNamara noted.

“I played the game of my life, and Pistol Pete Maravich averaged more than that,” he said.

McNamara answered the distress signal that accompanied the foul trouble of forward Hakim Warrick, the other half of the Syracuse attack who is expected to torment the demons lurking inside Williams.

The game holds the promise of intrigue, the blemish-filled records of both teams aside.

Maryland and Syracuse are two of the brand names of college basketball, Maryland the national champion in 2002 and Syracuse the same last season. Neither is up to the challenge this go-around, both too incomplete to go the distance. A Sweet 16 berth would be a satisfying parting gift for either program, all things considered.

The first game is out of the way, the adjustment to the altitude made.

“The first game is about getting the nervousness out,” said Terps forward Jamar Smith, the only senior on a team stuffed with freshmen and sophomores, nine in all.

The Orangemen embrace the 2-3 zone defense as few teams do, making an art out of it.

“Any good zone defense team lets you think you’re open, but you’re not open by the time you shoot it,” Williams said. “That’s what they are comfortable with, in a zone, and good at it, and they trap and help out of it extremely well. People think zone and they think a team is not working on defense. But Syracuse is just as active in a zone as teams in man defenses are.”

A 3-point shooting assault is one effective measure against a 2-3 zone defense, an uneasy proposition for the Terps.

The connection between Williams and Jim Boeheim goes back to the glory days of the Big East, Williams the relatively young coaching pup patrolling the sideline for Boston College.

As the years passed and the ill-defined disappointments accumulated, the two became candidates not to have the validation of a national championship.

The validation of a national championship is an unnecessary barometer, as Williams pointed out, considering the number of successful coaches who left the game minus the pinnacle piece of hardware.

The validation, unnecessary or not, is theirs to clutch now, as members of an exclusive club, the honor occasionally shared in the summertime with clubs in hand.

“Jim grew up by country clubs and I grew up in New Jersey, so he has an advantage on the golf course,” Williams said, looking for a punchline. “There is some slo-pitch softball in my swing and some baseball in it.”

Williams is never too far removed from his blue-collar roots and the persistence of an underdog who cannot stop to enjoy the scenery of the Rocky Mountains. He remains a threat to be at ease with where he is one of these decades.

“You have to put the emotion aside in getting ready for each game,” Williams said, a challenge in itself for one so wired.

The wiring goes with the spectacle, both excessive but hard to ignore.

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