- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2007

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Maryland found itself in possession of perilously few defensive answers in its latest harrowing ACC road adventure last night.

It was about the worst shortcoming the Terrapins could display against Al Thornton.

The Florida State senior torched the frequently absent Maryland defense for 27 points as the Seminoles dealt the Terps a 96-79 loss, the latest in a line of disappointing performances outside of College Park.

Maryland (16-6, 2-5 ACC) remained winless in conference play on the road, where the program has managed only four ACC victories in the last three seasons.

The Terps have not won away from Comcast Center in more than two months while displaying an unerring split personality depending on the venue, a trend that probably needs to be reversed Saturday at last-place Wake Forest.

“It’s frustrating, but you have to keep things in perspective where we are,” coach Gary Williams said. “We have to go to Wake, and it will be tough on Saturday, and then you have to come home for a couple games. You stay with it. You can’t rule yourself out of anything at this point of the season.”

Yet there was little encouragement to be mustered from a frequently absent defense.

Jason Rich scored 24 points for the Seminoles (16-6, 4-4), who have battled their own home/road demons, shot 61.7 percent for the night and quickly turned a three-point halftime lead into a full-scale rout with a 21-8 spurt to open the second half.

In just a few minutes, the possibility of securing a victory on a NCAA tournament contender’s home floor ceded to the necessity of winning somewhere — anywhere — in the near future.

“We just have to find a way to not get down so much on the road where we have to come back against such a large deficit,” guard D.J. Strawberry said. “We need [Saturday’s game] pretty bad. It’s tough. We’re going to do everything we can to get the win at Wake Forest. That’s all we can do now. We can’t do anything about this game.”

While Maryland traded shots for a half with Florida State, even the briefest hiccup at the offensive end was sure to dash the Terps’ chances of hanging around.

It was in this setting that Thornton, the Seminoles’ athletic forward and ACC player of the year candidate, effectively destroyed the Terps.

Thornton quickly set to work after the break, writhing through the lane for a sweet layup about a minute in, then went over Ekene Ibekwe for an offensive rebound and a thunderous dunk moments later for a 55-48 edge.

But the run was far from over.

Thornton dropped a sublime 13-footer Ibekwe could do little to stop, then hit a 3-pointer under similar circumstances a bit later. He capped the Seminoles’ outburst with a steal and a transition dunk to make it 70-54.

“I just tried to be more assertive,” Thornton said. “I was trying to take what the defense was giving me. He was giving me jump shots. He was backing off some. I had to keep him honest.”

The Seminoles didn’t seem to have much trouble finding their spots, particularly during a 12-for-15 stretch to open the second half. Some of their success came from Maryland’s inability to contest much of anything and a bit more from capitalizing on a chasm-like 33-19 rebounding edge.

Then again, part of it was simply Thornton — and his teammates — hitting several shots with a severe degree of difficulty.

“There were a couple shots tonight where we played good defense on him and he just turned around and made a good shot,” Terps guard Mike Jones said. “Sometimes that will happen.”

Maryland eventually closed within 79-70 when James Gist, who scored a team-high 23 points, dropped in a layup. But Thornton again had a response, turning back the Terps with a body-contorting drive into the lane moments later to get the lead back to double figures for good.

The final five minutes were a formality, and Williams took 20 minutes before finally entering the postgame press conference. Once there, he remained composed, acknowledging his team’s defensive deficiencies while trying to remain upbeat about the Terps’ long-term prospects.

Thornton won’t be around to harass the Terps for the next five games. By the time Maryland sees him again at Comcast Center next month, it could be poised for payback or not have much of a season to ruin further.

It’s difficult to tell with the Terps, who still have much work to do to remain in the NCAA tournament picture.

“Nobody is going to feel sorry for you,” Williams said. “There’s no team in the league [saying] ‘Oh, Maryland lost tonight. That’s too bad.’ You have to get out of it yourself. We’re got to do it [with] our team. We’ll be a team, and we’ll come ready to play. We’re 16-6 and realize we’re 2-5 in the league and have to play better, and we’re going to work toward that.”

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