- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

Meshing talent and timing often has proved elusive for No.22 Maryland.

The Terrapins posted season bests in 3-point shooting and defense against Miami on Saturday but matched a season low with 26 first-half points after losing forward Ekene Ibekwe during warmups. As a result, the Terps left a 75-73 overtime loser. Chalk up another missed opportunity, something that has happened all too regularly this season.

“The toughest thing we’ve done this year is try to get all five guys the same day playing well,” coach Gary Williams said. “It just doesn’t seem to happen too often.”

Maryland (13-7, 4-5 ACC) will tumble from the polls today after a one-week return. The victories over then-No.2 Duke and then-No.22 Georgia Tech seem diminished after upset losses at Clemson and Miami last week.

The Terps have played themselves back on the bubble, threatening to fall to the bottom rung of the conference for the first time since 1993. As Maryland readies for Virginia Tech (12-8, 5-4) tomorrow and No.4 Duke (17-2, 7-2) on Saturday, it probably needs to win four of its last seven conference games to seal a 12th straight NCAA bid.

“There’s probably a couple teams that are above everybody,” Williams said of the ACC. “There’s four or five that are about the same.”

It has been a maddening season for the Terps. After winning the ACC tournament last year with a maturing group of underclassmen, they have regressed this season, making mental mistake after mental mistake.

The loss of reserve guard D.J. Strawberry to a season-ending knee injury has proved especially damaging. The Terps have missed his defense and quick lift off the bench. Compounding that Saturday was the absence of the slumping Ibekwe, who declared himself unfit with a bad back and missed a chance to flourish against a soft Miami frontcourt.

Before the injury, Ibekwe wasn’t the only Terps player in a slump. Junior guard John Gilchrist, the 2004 ACC tournament MVP who toyed with the idea of leaving for the NBA after the season, might not even make third-team All-ACC. He hasn’t been able to penetrate for several games and no longer seems able to carry the offense.

“John’s struggling a little bit beating people off the dribble,” Williams said. “Hopefully, he’ll come out of it.”

Forward Nik Caner-Medley had picked up some of the scoring from Gilchrist but has shot poorly the past two games after suffering from food poisoning. The Terps’ scramble for a temporary “go-to” guy has resulted in several short spurts of effective offense in those two games but nothing more.

“We have enough scorers on this team that if I’m not taking shots every night we should still win,” Caner-Medley said.

Maryland received a career-high 23 points from guard Chris McCray, including four 3-pointers. McCray is the nation’s second-best free throw shooter at 91.9 percent but rarely has shown confidence in his outside shooting.

“When you get into a slump shooting, you shoot when you’re not open, and when you’re open you pass it,” Williams said. “He got his looks and shot it well.”

McCray scored 20 of his points in the second half and overtime. His 3-pointers put Maryland ahead 60-57 with 6:06 remaining and tied the game in overtime at 73-73.

“Coach told me to shoot,” McCray said. “Just forget everything. Just shoot the ball.”

Virginia Tech has become a must-win game for Maryland. Otherwise, the NIT is a real option.

“There isn’t too much further we can go down,” McCray said. “It’s hard to keep saying it, but we have another game coming up, so we’ll get ready for Virginia Tech.”

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