- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

The sixth man was out for the season. One starter walked gingerly with a bruised tailbone. A fan’s sign implored the point guard not to turn pro following a public dispute with the coach.

Maryland easily could have collapsed after trailing Virginia by six points early in the second half Wednesday night. Instead, the starters interlocked arms during a timeout for the first time in three seasons together before delivering a 14-2 knockout run en route to an 82-68 victory at Comcast Center.

And so the Terrapins avoided another crisis. A two-game winning streak has tempered the simmering tension that followed two straight losses. Once again, the Terps are trying to turn midseason blues into a late-season run.

“Everything is looking up for us now,” point guard John Gilchrist said. “We have our confidence back.”

Overcoming slumps isn’t new. Aside from the 2002 national championship season, Maryland has suffered them annually since 1999. The Terps:

• Rebounded from a 4-8 conference start last season to win the ACC tournament championship.

• Shrugged off consecutive losses in 2003 to win five of six and reach the Sweet 16.

• Lost five of six in 2001 before winning 11 of 12 en route to the Final Four.

• Followed three straight losses in 2000 by taking nine of 11. They won seven straight in 1999 after consecutive road losses.

“We went through this last year with a couple losses early,” guard Chris McCray said. “We know how to deal with it.”

But can Maryland finish strong over the next six weeks with a short roster? Guard D.J. Strawberry is out for the rest of the season after tearing a knee ligament Monday. He’s the Terps’ first major injury since Obinna Ekezie missed the final 10 games in 1999 with a torn Achilles’ tendon.

McCray is hampered by a bruised tailbone, leaving Maryland thin at shooting guard. Reserve forward Darien Henry has missed eight games after knee surgery. Center Hassan Fofana transferred last month over lack of playing time.

Strawberry’s sudden departure is the largest obstacle, if only psychologically. A strong defensive player, Strawberry also provided a quick lift because of his intensity.

“My teammate is not going to be there the rest of the year,” forward Nik Caner-Medley said. “I hate losing teammates. We have to get through it.”

The public spat between coach Gary Williams and Gilchrist also must not resurface. They’ve made up, but media attention won’t let it completely go. For now, Gilchrist is running the offense more to Williams’ liking while letting others get more chances to shoot.

“Sometimes it’s difficult,” Gilchrist said, “but sometimes you do what’s asked of you. You don’t fight it — just go along.”

The Terps need Gilchrist to score regularly. However, every cold streak will prompt second-guessers to whisper unfairly that his NBA aspirations are compromising the team.

Gilchrist confessed he’ll “black out sometimes and just go [to the basket]” when Maryland is trailing. Certainly Gilchrist has carried the Terps at times this season, but he has scored just 17 points in the two victories since playing nine minutes at Wake Forest on Jan.11.

“John went through a little adversity,” said Caner-Medley, who rooms with Gilchrist, “but that let him sit back and see the player he has the potential to be. He’s proven how good of a point guard he is. Anybody that says he’s a selfish player, [well] over the last few games he’s been the complete opposite.”

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