- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Maryland guard John Gilchrist finally gets it: A point guard may be at the center of the offense, but it doesn’t have to revolve around him.

The No. 22 Terrapins (13-5, 4-3 ACC) have beaten two straight ranked foes entering tonight’s game against Clemson (10-10, 1-7), and key in both games has been Maryland’s offensive balance.

Forward Nik Caner-Medley may have led the Terps in scoring six consecutive games after Gilchrist had a six-game streak of his own, but Maryland has learned to spread the ball, using a rhythm more akin to a waltz than a rave. Points now come from anywhere on the court, with five players averaging at least 9.2 points.

“Nik has had good games, but part of that is teams are a little more worried about us going inside,” coach Gary Williams said yesterday. “That has a tendency to loosen things on the perimeter.”

Suddenly, it’s all coming together for Maryland’s four junior starters after 2 years together. They know when Gilchrist will pass underneath and how guard Chris McCray can trap a ballhandler for a quick turnover. They’re more comfortable with forwards Caner-Medley and Travis Garrison scoring closer to the basket this season. And there’s less yelling on the court and more communicating.

It took a midseason crisis — blowouts by then-No. 3 North Carolina and No. 4 Wake Forest on the road — for that to happen, however. The offense looked lost, and Gilchrist, amid criticism his judgment on the floor was being clouded by a potential jump to the NBA after the season, spent much of the game against the Demon Deacons on the bench. As a result, Williams told the point guard to concentrate on running the offense rather than look for his own shot.

The Terps won their next two games, but Gilchrist sulked on the court. He took just four shots against Temple, his fewest as a starter other than the nine-minute stint at Wake Forest. When Caner-Medley finally cooled in the first half against N.C. State on Jan. 23, Maryland trailed by 26 at intermission en route to an ugly loss.

Caner-Medley spoke to his roommate at length, repeating Williams’ urging for Gilchrist to trust his teammates more. The result has been convincing victories over then-No. 2 Duke and No. 22 Georgia Tech.

“I can’t shoot the ball every time,” Gilchrist said. “We have to run the plays and get everybody playing well.”

Indeed, Gilchrist doesn’t have the green light to shoot that Williams gave Steve Francis and Juan Dixon. However, the short leash from three weeks ago is gone. Gilchrist played 40 minutes against Georgia Tech and 39 against Duke, and any strain in the relationship between the coach and point guard appears to be gone.

“John should be John Gilchrist,” Williams said. “If he just plays his game, he’s fine. … Just play. Sometimes it gets too deep. Go play.”

Gilchrist delivered one of his better games of the season against Georgia Tech. He finished with 15 points, but his seven assists and five rebounds were the more important numbers against Yellow Jacket guards who forced him into only one turnover.

“What John did against two really good guards was a great show,” Williams said. “I don’t think people appreciated everything he did.”

The offensive flow has relaxed Caner-Medley (17.4 points), who has become the team’s primary scorer. After scoring 11 of Maryland’s opening 18 points against Georgia Tech, Caner-Medley was silenced for seven minutes. However, he opened the second half with a layup and later ended the Terps’ four-minute drought with a 5-footer that essentially sealed the game.

“A lot of times in the past, if I had missed a few shots I wouldn’t have kept shooting,” Caner-Medley said. “But my coaches said to keep being aggressive.”

A standout defensive effort also reduced the pressure on the offense during the late drought. Georgia Tech didn’t score for nearly six minutes after closing to 63-60, keeping Maryland from forcing shots.

“There’s less pressure on players to score when they know our defense is good,” Williams said. “Our defense wasn’t any good early in the ACC season, and now it’s been good the last couple games.”

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