Jeff Baxter and Keith Gatlin kept hearing the same thing all over campus -- what's wrong with Maryland's basketball team? When the question started to have an accusatory ring to it, the Terrapins' two guards decided to do something about it.
For most of this season Maryland (12-10 overall, 2-6 in the ACC) has played the same game: all-America forward Len Bias gets his 25 points, no other Terrapins are in double figures, and they lose in the stretch.
But the play of the back court improved dramatically in last Saturday's 78-69 win over Clemson. Baxter scored 21 points and Gatlin 17, and the Terrapins suddenly had a new offense and some new hope of making the NCAA tournament.
"Everywhere I went I kept hearing it," Gatlin said. "I'd go to class and they'd say, 'What's up with Maryland?' It was getting to be a real headache. We decided it was time to do something about it."
Whether there's a sequel will be determined tonight against North Carolina State at Reynolds Coliseum (9 p.m.) in Raleigh. The performances of Gatlin and Baxter gave the Terrapins some scoring options for the first time all season, and as they head into the final stretch of conference games clinging to sixth place, it's time for them to put together some consistency.
"It was a combination of people getting on our nerves and pride," Baxter said. "People kept asking why we hadn't been shooting. Maybe we were to blame for Len not getting open. It was a confidence thing. We weren't creating shots. Against Clemson, we were moving better and it showed."
Both Gatlin and Baxter were given a few lectures by Coach Lefty Driesell, and the result was something akin to a motion offense. For the first time both guards looked fearless around the perimeter, and they were penetrating the middle regularly, a rarity until now.
Their previous hesitancy has kept two capable scorers from averaging double figures, with Gatlin scoring 9.2 and Baxter 9.0. The lack of creativity was particularly noticeable in Gatlin, who in the past had been one of Maryland's more innovative players.
"Myself, I would miss my first shot and go into a shell, stop shooting," Gatlin said. "Coach just said so what if I made a mistake or turned it over, I had to go on. That's my attitude from now on -- I'm taking my shot."
The Terrapins will need a well-rounded offense against the Wolfpack (17-6 overall, 6-3 in the ACC), who some call the most talented young team in the conference. North Carolina State won the previous meeting this season at Cole Field House, 67-55, as Charles Shackleford had 20 points, Chris Washburn 16, and guard Ernie Myers 15.
Against a front court composed of Washburn, a 6-11 sophomore center, and 6-10 freshman forward Shackleford, Maryland's inside game is likely to have its usual scoring problems. A perimeter game as well as an effective fast break could make a difference.
"We'll push the ball up to a certain degree," Driesell said. "It's to our advantage to run the ball and and get some points before those big guys get back and set in the defense." Mont-Takoma Park 78, Mont-Rockville 71
Curtis Carter scored a game-high 27 points to lead the Falcons (14-4, 10-4 in the Maryland Junior College League), over the Knights (10-9, 8-7) at Rockville.
Mount St. Mary's 70, Randolph Macon 44
Mike Tate scored 12 points to lead the Division II sixth-ranked Mountaineers (18-3) over the Yellow Jackets at Memorial Gymnasium in Emmitsburg, Md.