- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2006

Two weeks after Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible for the rest of the season, the Maryland basketball team is still sorting through how its offense will run without the star guard.

McCray’s departure deprived the Terps of 15.2 points a game, then a team high. It also took away one of a balanced team’s primary weapons, leaving foes with fewer dangerous options to defend.

That’s meant more attention for forward Nik Caner-Medley, who has played well since McCray’s suspension even though the Terps (14-7, 4-4 ACC) have lost three in a row entering tonight’s meeting with Virginia (11-8, 5-4) at Comcast Center.

“When you take away any team’s leading scorer, they’re going to go after other people hard,” said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team plays for the third time in six days. “That’s what we have to deal with. The problem is we’re in this stretch of games where we don’t have a lot of time to do a lot of things.

“Plus, there’s a reason Chris was starting. He was a good player. It’s not like you have another guy. You can’t go out and get a free agent at this time of year.”

Increasingly, opponents have expended their energies attempting to shut down Caner-Medley. The senior surpassed 30 points in each of the Terps’ first two games without McCray but struggled to score 15 points Thursday against North Carolina. Caner-Medley battled a flu bug over the weekend but still produced 10 points and 10 rebounds in Sunday’s 62-58 loss at N.C. State.

Caner-Medley, who has been one of the Maryland’s primary contributors for three seasons, brushed aside ideas he has received more attention than usual in the last two weeks. He also has led the Terps in scoring six of the last nine games, a stretch that dates to before Maryland lost McCray.

“I think Chris is a good scorer, but that’s the way it’s been all year, and that’s the way it was last year,” Caner-Medley said Sunday about attention from opponents. “I think as long as you can run your team’s offense, we’ve got a lot of guys that can score.”

That’s been Maryland’s mantra all season, and it was an attitude easy to implement with a deeper team. However, going down a man at midseason has exposed inconsistent play, though some players have improved.

The Terps managed to funnel the ball inside to James Gist against N.C. State, and the sophomore has been Maryland’s most reliable post presence in recent weeks. Perhaps most tellingly, he has played the most minutes of the Terps’ four-man inside rotation in four of the last six games.

Junior guard Mike Jones, an obvious candidate to bolster the offense with McCray gone, has averaged 14.3 points since sliding into the senior’s spot in the lineup.

“We went to James pretty well [Sunday],” Williams said. “We just couldn’t get Nik working until later in the game, and part of that was he wasn’t feeling well. We need Mike Jones’ scoring now. There’s no doubt about it. We lose 15, 16 a game, whatever Chris was averaging, we need to go find that.”

Both Gist and Jones have become frequent starters, though it is tough to pinpoint a specific lineup. Williams has promised to juggle his rotation on a game-by-game basis.

It might suggest more looks for players who received little time early in the season. Senior Sterling Ledbetter started for the first time all season Sunday, and freshman Dave Neal has made one-minute cameos in the first half of the last two games.

No matter how Williams divvies up playing time, the Terps will need to collect wins in the second half of the ACC schedule after their recent slide. Maryland’s RPI, according to collegerpi.com, has dipped from 24 to 41 since McCray was suspended, a bubble-worthy number that would improve with a strong spurt in the coming weeks.

“If we play well these last eight games, we haven’t done anything to bury ourselves yet,” Williams said. “It’s just what we’re going to do these last eight games.”

Note — Athletic department officials at Maryland encourage fans to arrive early tonight to avoid potential traffic problems created by rush hour.

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