For much of the past decade, Maryland has consistently flaunted a strong and deep inside offensive game, led by standouts from Joe Smith to Obinna Ekezie to Terence Morris to Lonny Baxter. So far this season, senior center Ryan Randle has gone from Maryland's eighth man last season to its second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, but that has been the extent of the Terrapins' inside presence.
With few veteran big men in the ACC, Randle and fellow senior Tahj Holden, along with newcomers Travis Garrison and Jamar Smith, could give Maryland a competitive advantage by establishing a strong low-post offense. At the very least, going inside can help the Terrapins get to the free throw line, where they were effective during the second half of last season.
"It's a real battle and real physical," said senior point guard Steve Blake, who has directed an offense that has been perimeter-oriented so far. "We can't rely on just one aspect. We could use it to our advantage."
After defeating Georgia Tech in their ACC opener Sunday, the Terrapins will take a two-game break from conference play this afternoon against Wagner (4 p.m.) and Wednesday against Hampton. Then they will return to the more physical ACC foes, who will challenge Maryland to be multi-dimensional offensively.
Against Georgia Tech and its big front court of 6-foot-10 freshman Chris Bosh and 7-1 sophomore Luke Schenscher, Maryland did not shy away from going inside. Even though they were outscored 36-24 in the lane, the Terrapins attempted 35 free throws, more than twice Georgia Tech's attempts.
"We were able to get the ball inside," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "Gradually, the last couple of weeks, we've started to get the ball inside to where we could get to the free throw line. Even before [Georgia Tech] fouled at the end of the game . . . that would still give us a 25-15 edge in the free throws. So that was important against a physical team like Georgia Tech.
"We have to be able to get them the ball. We were really struggling against the good teams early in terms of getting our inside players the ball. Part of that is, it's not just the passers, but it's the big men getting open. You have to set good screens. You have to be tough enough to catch it and get the little bump that's not really a foul."
Williams praised Smith, who used his size (6-9, 240 pounds), strength and speed to flourish against Georgia Tech in the low post. Holden and Garrison, however, are big men whose best offensive talents are on the perimeter. While nobody expects Holden to radically change his game this late in his career, Williams is working on developing some low-post moves for Garrison, who, at 6-8, 235, is more physically mature than most freshmen.
"His future as a basketball player is as a power player who can shoot," Williams said. "That's a great combination to have. He's a little different. Most inside guys become good shooters. Travis is a good shooter who gradually has to become a power player in the post. What we're trying to with Travis, as he plays, is to develop that part of his game."
Garrison didn't play much with his back to the basket at DeMatha, where he was not asked to play center until his senior season.
"In high school, I really didn't have to play the post that much," Garrison said. "So, coming here and having to start off like new, it's been pretty tough. But I'm coming along."