- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

The fuse has been relit.

After a troublesome week plagued by two losses and controversy surrounding guard John Gilchrist, Maryland found some inner strength and new resources. Forward Nik Caner-Medley scored 35 points to lead the Terrapins to an 80-69 victory over Temple yesterday at Comcast Center in a game they trailed for most of the opening 30 minutes.

Caner-Medley’s point total was the highest by a Maryland player since Joe Smith scored 40 against Duke in 1995. However, Maryland also needed guard Mike Jones’ blistering 21 points from the outside and some unselfish play by Gilchrist to outlast the pesky Owls, who had five players in double figures.

Center Will Bowers added four points during the decisive stretch for Maryland, including the go-ahead dunk for a 64-62 lead with 5:20 remaining.

“The basketball gods tried to get us today, but we were able to get through it,” coach Gary Williams said.

Indeed, the game was all about surviving for the beleaguered Terps, who sought to renew their confidence after consecutive road losses to No.4 North Carolina and No.3 Wake Forest. Maryland was teetering mentally entering the game, and Williams and Gilchrist were at odds earlier in the week.

Maryland (10-4) found answers against Temple (6-7) in its final nonconference game before it resumes ACC play Wednesday against visiting Virginia. The Terps converted six of 16 3-pointers after making just three of 36 combined in the two losses. Maryland outrebounded a bigger opponent 38-34 and sank 24 of 34 free throws, and the bench added 31 points.

Little problems that seemed much bigger in defeat suddenly vanished. Maybe now the Terps will find themselves popular around campus again.

“When you lose games, your friends don’t call you because they know how important it is to you,” Caner-Medley said. “Now our phones are going to ring.”

Caner-Medley scored Maryland’s opening 12 points in the second half; had nine rebounds, including four he put back for scores; and finished 14-for-21 from the floor, with just two baskets that didn’t originate underneath. With forward Ekene Ibekwe showing little with two points and no rebounds in 11 minutes before being pulled, Caner-Medley was the inside force.

“Nik went to the offensive glass first,” Williams said. “He proved to us we could rebound with that team. Let’s face it — we’ve been squashed on the glass the last couple games.”

Caner-Medley’s lower jaw often protrudes when he is intense, and his eyes pulsate with anger. This was his moment to lead on an afternoon when Gilchrist sought a supporting role.

“Nik had the look today like he was going to play a little mad,” Williams said. “Our guys are really nice. They have to get a little mean in a basketball sense. You have to be physical.”

Gilchrist smiled from tipoff to his fifth and final assist, a feed to Caner-Medley for a dunk with 8.7 seconds remaining. Simply playing was a relief after he saw just nine minutes as a reserve in the 81-66 loss at Wake Forest on Tuesday. Critics claimed Gilchrist was hurting the team by trying to enhance his NBA chances. A midweek meeting settled the differences between Williams and Gilchrist after the dispute went public.

“I told him, ‘Coach, I apologize,’” Gilchrist said. “I just want to do whatever it takes to do for the team to win. I put away my personal things because I know that’s not best for the team. … It’s been a soul-searching time. The whole week has been a thinking process. I took it back to the basics and what’s important.”

Williams wanted Gilchrist to run the offense more and not feel pressured to carry the scoring load, too. However, the Terps need him to score regularly. Gilchrist admitted he was overcompensating, taking two shots in each half to finish with four points after coming in averaging 15.4.

“I wanted to get everybody shots,” Gilchrist said. “Sometimes I said I’m going to step up a little bit. I just penetrate the gap and give somebody else a shot.”

Said Williams: “I’m sure John was tentative, but I liked the way he handled the ball. I was trying to get him more aggressive offensively, but that’s where he felt comfortable.”

Jones twice lifted Maryland with crowd-pleasing shots. He scored six points within three minutes in the first half to give the Terps their first lead at 25-23. He added consecutive 3-pointers for a 52-52 tie before hitting another for a 57-54 lead with 9:14 remaining. Jones high-stepped down the court after a late score — a throwback to running track in high school that forced Caner-Medley to scold him.

“I said, ‘Mike, you still have to play [defense],” Caner-Medley said. “He was feeling it. We need that type of emotion even if it’s a dance.”

Said Jones: “My eyes lit up to see Temple playing the zone they did and leaving the middle open.”

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