- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2009

By his own admission, Maryland forward Dave Neal is a wide-bodied fellow. As such, he is plenty capable of setting effective screens to help the Terrapins efficiently run their dozen or so plays.

At times, though, Maryland doesn’t wait for Neal and others to help create open shots. Guards hurry to hoist shots, and a choppy offense is the result.

“We’re winning, so it’s not as bad as people make it sound,” Neal said. “But I feel like we’re in a little bit of a rush.”

The impatience is merely one of the factors contributing to a halfcourt offense that has been erratic, even during Maryland’s six-game winning streak. The Terps (10-2), who host Charlotte (5-6) on Saturday, have done some things well in the seven weeks since the season started. But there are other facets in need of tweaking during this stretch between final exams and the start of league play.

Chief among them is figuring out how to operate in the halfcourt more consistently. While the Terps’ average margin of victory in their past three games has been 21 points, their offensive performance in each game featured a few dominant bursts to more than counteract some extended sluggish spells.

“The last thing to come is usually your halfcourt offense,” coach Gary Williams said. “Our defense has been good, our transition’s been good, our pressure defense has been good. I think we’re getting better with our halfcourt offense.”

But it probably isn’t good enough just yet, not with only a week remaining before the ACC schedule arrives. There are times when it’s clear the Terps aren’t functioning as crisply as necessary. Sometimes an open man doesn’t receive a pass. On other occasions, it’s just a rapid shot.

But the best harbinger is watching Williams slowly boil on the sideline when Maryland devolves into a slapdash approach. At his most disgusted, he’ll wave dismissively at a player and storm toward the end of the bench.

“Once he does that, you know you have to pick it up,” guard Adrian Bowie said.

Nevertheless, the Terps have made up for their occasional struggles in other ways. They average an ACC-low 12.1 turnovers. Maryland’s transition game is more effective than in some recent years, ensuring a few easy baskets. The defense yields 60.5 points a night, well below the 67.7 that opponents averaged through 12 games last season.

Those factors can offset shaky shooting and uneven offensive play - to a point.

“We haven’t turned the ball over much. That’s a very positive sign for us, that we’ve been good with the ball,” Williams said. “If you don’t have a great shooting night and if you don’t turn the ball over a lot, at least you’re going to get more possessions. … I think we’re really close. We pass well. When we get people open, we usually find them.”

Maryland will need that trend to continue in the next two months but also will require a more efficient offense fairly soon. The start of league play means a higher level of competition and also a year-in, year-out familiarity that ensures opponents will be prepared for some of Maryland’s stronger characteristics.

“It’s going to be even harder because they’re going to know our plays,” Bowie said. “They have great athletes playing against us, which will make it harder. That’s why we need to work on our execution more, so we can have it coming into ACC play.”

Note - Williams said freshman forward Steve Goins (left ankle) will be re-evaluated Monday. Sophomore forward Jerome Burney (stress fracture in his right foot) is at least a week away from shedding his walking boot.

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