- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2006

As his players answered questions after Wednesday’s victory over Fordham, Maryland coach Gary Williams walked to the dry erase board in the Terrapins’ locker room and scrawled his players’ individual offensive rebounding totals.

He scribbled only four names, a reflection both of the Terps’ occasional sloppiness in the first half and their sizzling shooting after the break. Yet Williams wrote with a purpose, issuing a reminder of just another facet likely to prove important as the season progresses.

It figures to be relevant tonight when the No. 23 Terps (9-1) visit Boston College (5-2) in the ACC opener for both teams. The Eagles aren’t quite so brawny without erstwhile star Craig Smith, but Sean Williams has blocked 30 shots in five games to maintain an imposing inside presence.

Williams can’t get to every shot, though, meaning Maryland could receive some opportunities for easy baskets if it is positioned correctly. It hasn’t happened as much of late. After averaging nearly 14 offensive rebounds in their first seven games, the Terps have managed a total of 27 in their last three outings.

“When you have a shot blocker, he does leave his man to go block the shot, so if he doesn’t get it, then somebody’s free as an offensive rebounder,” Gary Williams said. “We were talking about that and seeing if we can get to the offensive glass, not just against Boston College but as a way to play. If we get a couple every game, that’s four, six points. That’s kind of like free points.”

The emphasis isn’t contained simply to the offensive glass. The Terps were outrebounded in four of five games before Wednesday, hardly an indictment of a team off to a strong start but nevertheless a possible sore spot later in the season.

The Terps’ overall numbers might be a little misleading. Maryland surrenders 36.7 rebounds a game, the most in the ACC. But it also leads the conference in field goal percentage defense (.355), so there are more rebounds available.

It seemed Maryland comprehended the situation in the second half against Fordham. After barely holding an advantage on the boards in the first half, the Terps outrebounded the Rams 22-9 in a dominant second half.

“It’s kind of a big deal to rebound,” guard Mike Jones said. “We always get an opportunity to run our fast-break transition. That’s where I feel a lot guys are really good at. One of our strongest assets is running the fast break, getting points out in the open. For the rest of the season, rebounding is going to be big for us.”

The rest of the season will primarily feature ACC opponents, including tonight’s conference cameo.

The Terps won’t play another league game for exactly a month, and the Eagles are easily the best opponent Maryland will meet in that span.

The reality of the schedule adds some importance to the game, since it will be Maryland’s best chance to emphatically move past last Sunday’s loss to Notre Dame while also earning a spot atop the conference for several weeks.

“You have to be physical for any ACC team we play,” forward James Gist said. “Just going into another opponent’s court and getting a win, that’s a huge game. That’s a huge opportunity for us and if we get this win, it’ll seem like Notre Dame never happened.”

It’s also important for Boston College, which was ranked 15th in the preseason but tumbling out of the poll after surprising losses to Vermont and Providence.

“It’s a statement game if we win,” Boston College forward Jared Dudley said. “[It’ll be] ‘OK, well, BC is really back, five wins in a row, they beat Maryland at home. They just had a little trouble early. If we lose again, it’ll be ‘They’re back where we thought they were.’ We’re trying to keep it going.”

So are the Terps, whose performance in their first 10 games suggest a much improved team over the last two seasons. Maryland already owns victories at Illinois and over Michigan State on a neutral floor, and can send a message of its own with another impressive outing away from Comcast Center.

“BC was picked third in the preseason [by Blue Ribbon]. We were picked eighth,” Williams said. “It’s kind of a chance to see where you are.”

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