For Terps, the Time To Get Going Is Now

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 18, 2006

Maryland's basketball season did not die Tuesday night, but it reached a low point with a 12-point loss at Clemson. So when the team bus returned to Comcast Center at 3 a.m., Coach Gary Williams offered a departing message to his players:

"When you're playing well, people say you're definitely going to be in the NCAA tournament," he told them. "Or, [they say] that you have no chance. Those things still have to be proven. The bottom line is that the team or the individual determines the final outcome, not what is written or what's said on the Internet."

If Maryland (15-9, 5-6 ACC) is to make a final push toward an NCAA tournament berth, it almost certainly has to start today against Georgia Tech in one of the Terrapins' two remaining home games. The Yellow Jackets (10-13, 3-9) have lost nine of their last 10 games but have played better recently.

The Terps can't afford to lose today because three of their last four games are on the road and they are 3-12 in their last 15 away games. For Maryland to salvage its season, it needs to solve problems that have lingered much of the year, namely poor perimeter defense, failure to protect the ball and repeated lulls to start the second half.

The most glaring has been perimeter defense, which became weaker after Chris McCray, the team's best defender, was lost for the season on Jan. 23 because of poor grades. Eleven of the past 13 opponents have made at least nine three-pointers against the Terps.

Williams said his team knows what the other team is going to do offensively and players know where they belong. Sometimes, he said, "you get overmatched," be it against Duke all-American J.J. Redick or a less heralded player like Clemson's Shawan Robinson, who has made 19 three-pointers in his last four games against Maryland.

"You have to know where you are supposed to be and have to know your assignments," Williams said, "but you also have to have the individual determination to stop your man. Every good team plays good team defense, but each person is still responsible for the person he is playing against."

Turnovers are less of a surprise because Maryland has lacked an experienced ballhandler since John Gilchrist turned pro last spring. D.J. Strawberry has played point guard only out of necessity. It may have been particularly alarming, however, that Maryland committed 26 turnovers in the loss at Clemson because the Tigers were without their best defender, guard Vernon Hamilton, who was injured.

When a television reporter asked Williams yesterday about the "turnover bug," Williams said: "That was not a bug. That was bird flu. Twenty-six turnovers in a game, that's 26 times you don't get a shot off. We have to really focus, and when we do we're okay. We seem to really pay the price when we get sloppy."

And for about the 10th time this season, Williams said, his team was lax to start the second half, allowing Clemson to unleash a 22-3 run to take a commanding 18-point lead. There is no excuse, Williams said, especially because the Terps are a veteran team. "You can only call timeout so many times to get them to play," Williams said.

After today, Maryland will be anywhere from fifth to eighth in the ACC.

"I think we're having as much fun as Miami," Williams said, "probably more fun than Clemson because they are below us [in the standings], more fun than Wake, more fun than Georgia Tech. That's when you have fun, when you win."

Terrapins Note: Williams said Strawberry, who had trouble breathing in the Clemson game, and guard Mike Jones, who dealt with cramps and a knee injury against the Tigers, both have fully recovered.

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