- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

Maryland’s season-long triple troubles — perimeter defense, shaky ball-handling and plodding starts to halves — all resurfaced in Tuesday’s 89-77 loss at Clemson.

Limiting the impact of all three would only help the reeling Terrapins (15-9, 5-6 ACC) against struggling Georgia Tech (10-13, 3-9) today at Comcast Center in a meeting of teams that have collectively lost 14 of their last 16 games.

Maryland has dropped five of six, and its RPI has fallen to 45 according to collegerpi.com. The Terps have won only one true road game all season, and the recent slide has dimmed their NCAA tournament hopes with five regular-season games left.

“When you’re playing well, people say, ‘Wow, you’re definitely in the NCAA tournament. You’re going to be a high seed.’ Or [when youre not], ‘You have no chance,’ ” said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who did not make his players available to the media yesterday. “Well, those things have to be proven. We’ll wait and see how we play.”

One way for the Terps to bolster their chances to win games in the next two weeks is to improve their perimeter defense. Maryland has struggled to defend the outside since even before ACC play resumed early last month. The Terps have allowed 11 of their last 13 opponents to make at least nine 3-pointers.

“Perimeter defense a lot of times, it’s not like inside where you can double down on the post. That’s pretty easy to do if you practice it,” Williams said. “On the perimeter, it’s you against the other guy a lot of times. If he can get the shot off and he can make it and you’re giving your toughest defense, that’s the way it is.”

That was the case in two losses to guard J.J. Redick and Duke, as well as against noted Terp-killer Shawan Robinson on Tuesday. The perimeter problems can be partially attributed to the absence of guard Chris McCray, who was declared academically ineligible on Jan. 23, though the Terps’ struggles preceded the senior’s departure.

Maryland’s ball-handling problems also were magnified in Tuesday’s loss. The Terps had 26 turnovers (13 in each half) and fumbled away the opportunity to take advantage of fine early shooting.

“That wasn’t a bug, that was bird flu,” Williams said. “You get 26 turnovers in a game, there’s not a lot of things you can do about it.”

And there’s not much that can be done about the perpetual slow starts, which have repeatedly surfaced since the first week of the season. Earlier in the year — against the likes of Arkansas and Minnesota — and even Feb. 7 against Virginia, the Terps overcame such deficiencies with strong play late.

That didn’t happen at Clemson, where in the first 10 minutes of the second half the Terps went from being tied to down 18 and all but out of the game.

“We just have to be tough for 40 minutes of the game,” junior guard Mike Jones said Tuesday. “That’s what it all boils down to. From the start of the game to halftime, [we have to] come out and play like we finish.”

Note — Williams said guards D.J. Strawberry (illness) and Jones (knee cramps) both practiced at full strength Thursday after missing time at Clemson. Williams said Strawberry underwent a precautionary EKG after he had trouble breathing during the game.

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