After having two nonconference games to become more accustomed to playing without injured star Walt Williams, Maryland returns to Atlantic Coast Conference play today, hosting North Carolina State and its high-scoring backcourt of Rodney Monroe and Chris Corchiani at Cole Field House.
Virginia, trying to overcome an injury of its own -- guard Anthony Oliver's broken right hand -- will travel to South Bend, Ind., for a nationally televised game against Notre Dame. In Colonial Athletic Association play, American hosts Navy and George Mason travels to James Madison for afternoon games.
Tonight Howard welcomes Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference favorite Coppin State, and George Washington faces Massachusetts in an Atlantic 10 game at Smith Center.
Williams, averaging 20 points a game for the Terrapins, broke his left fibula two weeks ago against Duke. Four nights later, in its first contest without the junior point guard, Maryland (10-7, 1-4) lost to Virginia, 76-62. Since then, however, the Terrapins have beaten South Florida 87-81 and Boston University 85-59.
South Florida was undefeated at home, had won 14 straight games at the Sun Dome and was beginning to draw attention in the national polls. In beating BU, Maryland held the Terriers to 35 percent shooting and avenged one of last season's losses. The question is whether that momentum will carry over into today's game.
"We beat South Florida in a hostile environment and we beat BU. Now we have to prove that we can beat a big-time team to make believers out of some people," said guard Kevin McLinton.
If Maryland does win, it likely will be because of the defensive work turned in by McLinton and Vince Broadnax against Monroe and Corchiani. Monroe, a native of Hagerstown, Md., has yet to score fewer than 21 points in any of the Wolfpack's 14 games and is leading the ACC in scoring at more than 28 points per outing.
Corchiani is averaging 18 points and almost 10 assists per game for N.C. State (10-4, 3-1) and will probably end as the conference's all-time leader in assists and steals.
Broadnax will guard Monroe and McLinton will draw Corchiani in Maryland's man-to-man defense.
"I like situations like this," said Broadnax. "He's averaging almost 30 points a game. I'll try to hold him under that; not to any specific number but just try to stop him from beating us all by himself."
Coach Gary Williams is hoping Maryland performs well enough on offense to make the visiting duo expend considerable energy playing defense. However, as justifiably concerned as he is about Monroe and Corchiani, Williams said opponents have to be aware of the other players on the court as well.
"Their offense has been scoring a lot of points in transition and if you only get a couple of guys back on defense to guard Monroe and Corchiani, then here come people like Kevin Thompson and Bryant Feggins," said Williams.
The coach emphasized his point by citing N.C. State's statistics, which show that while Monroe has taken the most shots (313 field goal attempts), there is less than 25 shots difference among Corchiani, forward Tom Gugliotta and Feggins.
Although Monroe has led the Wolfpack in scoring in 12 of 14 games, including a 48-point effort against Georgia Tech, each starter has set a career high in scoring. All those points have been needed -- in ACC play, N.C. State's bench averages 5.3 points per game.
In its first game without Oliver, Virginia beat Virginia Tech 86-61 in Richmond on Wednesday. Freshman Cornel Parker, Oliver's replacement, scored 16 points, hitting six of eight from the field, and added nine rebounds.
Perhaps more of the same can be expected against the Fighting Irish, who have struggled all season and must deal with the loss of center LaPhonso Ellis. For the second time in his three-year career, Ellis, one of the nation's best pivotmen, has been sidelined with academic difficulties.
Although some have been very close, Navy (5-12, 1-5) has lost five straight entering today's game at American, including an 81-80 loss to James Madison Wednesday. Also Wednesday, the Eagles (8-7, 3-3) lost by 72-69 to George Mason (7-11, 4-2).
The Patriots will try to extend their season-high winning streak to four games against Coach Lefty Driesell's Dukes, who are on top of the CAA (10-6, 5-0).
Speaking of tough-luck seasons, Howard (2-15) had lost 11 straight before beating Maryland-Eastern Shore Thursday. Of the 15 losses suffered by rookie coach Butch Beard, 10 have been by seven points or less.