Archive for Monday, February 23, 2004

Commentary: Terps’ tournament streak in jeopardy

February 23, 2004

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— Maryland used nine players in the first half Sunday against Duke, and all scratched on the stat sheet. But, much to coach Gary Williams' dismay, the common denominator was not points, rebounds or assists.

It was turnovers.

And having nine different players commit turnovers in a half, on the road against the nation's third-ranked team, is a foolproof recipe for defeat.

The 86-63 knockout left Williams livid with one of his starters and further jeopardized the ACC's longest streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

Yes, Maryland, not Duke or North Carolina, leads the conference with 10 straight NCAA bids. But with only four regular-season games remaining, the Terps (13-10, 4-8) have little margin for error.

"It's like life and death," said point guard John Gilchrist.

Maryland showed little life against Duke (22-3, 11-2). The Terps trailed by 14 early, by 17 at intermission and never drew closer in the second half.

Credit the Blue Devils, J.J. Redick in particular. He made five three-pointers and scored 20 points in 26 minutes as Duke swept Maryland for the first time since 1999 and broke a two-game losing streak.

But mostly blame the Terps. They committed 15 of their 23 turnovers in the first half and shot less than 40 percent (37.3) for the third straight game.

Granted, Duke is the ACC's premier defensive team, and reserve Sean Dockery guards the perimeter like no other. But Maryland is awful on offense; witness 10 consecutive games of sub-50 percent shooting and the program's worst overall percentage (43.8) in 35 years.

Gilchrist was the Terps' only weapon in the first half, scoring 12 points. But after Dockery came off the bench, Gilchrist missed five of his six shots and scored two points in the second half.

"Dockery's a good defender," Gilchrist said. "But it wasn't just him. When you get past him, there's all kinds of size in the lane."

Size in the form of Luol Deng, Shelden Williams, Shavlick Randolph and Nick Horvath. Their presence altered Gilchrist's shots and harassed Maryland center Jamar Smith into a four-point, three-rebound effort that ranks among his worst this season.

But Smith, Maryland's only senior, was not the object of Gary Williams' renowned wrath. Rather, it was guard Chris McCray.

With less than 17 minutes remaining, Shelden Williams blocked a Gilchrist jumper out of bounds, leaving the Terps one second on the shot clock. But when McCray caught the inbounds pass, he dribbled as the shot clock expired for yet another turnover.

Gary Williams immediately took McCray out of the game, and his animated criticism left McCray shaken, if not in tears. That appeared to further anger Williams, who kept McCray benched the rest of the game.

McCray averages 10 points and 30 minutes a game, and the Terps can ill-afford to have him and Williams at odds. Not with the NCAA streak on the line.

Maryland's task is pretty clear: Win three of its last four to enter the ACC tournament at 16-11, 7-9. That should assure the Terps an at-large bid, given their lofty power rating (34th in collegerpi.com) and non-conference victories against Florida and Wisconsin.

The schedule is favorable -- home games next week against Clemson and Wake Forest, followed by a trip to N.C. State and a home finale against Virginia.

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