|TC COLLEGE PARK -- The practice floor at Cole Field House looked emptier yesterday. The University of Maryland basketball team looked smaller. Losing Walt Williams can do that.
With Williams sitting on a folding chair holding a crutch, his broken left leg in a cast, the Terrapins went back to work without their 6-foot-8 point guard.
"It seems that whenever things are looking up here, something happens to bring us down," said sophomore Kevin McLinton, who will take over the point for tomorrow's home game against 14th-ranked Virginia (10-3, 2-1). "It's a devastating blow, but we've got to pick it up."
Williams, who suffered a fractured left fibula in Saturday's 94-78 loss to No. 12 Duke, will be in the cast for at least a month and isn't expected back for up to six weeks -- if at all this season.
So while the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference was gearing up for the second half of the schedule, Maryland (8-6, 1-3) was getting ready to go without a player who had produced 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game.
"Without him, we lose a lot of physical ability and a lot of emotion," said junior forward Vince Broadnax, who is expected to move back into the starting lineup. "Some of the shots he takes -- especially his dunks -- fire up the team and the crowd."
Maryland coach Gary Williams said that he wasn't going to change things drastically at this point of the season, but that the Terps would have to work on getting better shots for themselves and each other.
Williams, who has used a fullcourt pressure style since he has been a head coach, said he will not alter Maryland's attacking defense. Nor will his expectations lessen because of Walt Williams' injury.
"I'll always coach to win, not just to hustle or play well," said Gary Williams. "You get tired as a coach to hear, 'You guys played hard against Duke.' We're in it to win. But eventually you play to your level of talent."
Maryland's overall talent was suspect even with Williams, but the team's upset of then-No. 12 South Carolina in last month's ECAC Holiday Festival and its first ACC victory over Clemson had renewed hopes that the Terps would be competitive.
The absence of Williams will hurt Maryland not only offensively, but also defensively. At 6-8, Williams was an integral part of the team's defenses, whether the Terps were using a trap, a 1-3-1 zone (with him at the top) or a straight man-to-man.
"I think guards are not used to playing against someone 6-8," said Cedric Lewis, who has been as important, if not more crucial, to Maryland's defensive success this season with 72 blocked shots.
As a result of Williams' injury, there will be more defensive pressure put on shooting guard Matt Roe and on Lewis. Other players, such as McLinton, junior guard Matthew Downing, senior forward Eric Kjome and freshman walk-on Mike Thibeault, likely will get more court time.
And, as Lewis said, "We're not going to be running any lobs for our guards."
Lewis accidentally caused the injury. Williams, who didn't know Saturday how he got hurt, said Lewis kicked in the side of the leg as they were going up to block a shot.
"I knew my leg had snapped," said Williams. "I felt it. I had gotten kneed in the leg before and I could always play on it. This time I couldn't."
Whether Williams will return this season is a matter for debate. Though the timetable on his rehabilitation is four to six weeks, there's a question whether Williams would be risking too much for a team whose season ends March 2.
Here are some expected changes in the University of Maryland lineup as a result of Walt Williams' injury:
STARTING LINEUP * Kevin McLinton: Will become full-time point guard after starting the past several games at shooting guard. He shared ball-handling responsibilities with Williams.
* Matt Roe: Will move from small forward back to shooting guard spot he occupied at the beginning of the season. Will see a lot of defenses geared to stopping him from getting off his shot, which could prove troublesome.
* Vince Broadnax: Will move from sixth-man role back into the starting lineup at small forward. Maryland's best defender and one of its top rebounders, despite being only 6 feet 3, Broadnax will have to assert himself more offensively.
* Cedric Lewis: Blossoming into a pretty respectable offensive player, he will now find defenses sagged in on him until Maryland can find someone -- perhaps Roe -- to replace Williams as an outside threat. Will have to block a few more shots (5 a game currently), if that's realistic.
* Evers Burns: Will need to hit the boards more now that Williams, the team's third-leading rebounder, is out. Along with reserve forward Garfield Smith, will need to put up some more consistent offensive numbers.
ON THE BENCH * Matthew Downing: The junior transfer hasn't played much so far, but has been steady. He could see his playing time increase more dramatically than anybody else's if he can handle the ball and hit a few shots.
* Eric Kjome: Gary Williams has been trying to fit this transfer from Air Force into his rotation, and now might be the time. His willingness to bang on the boards will help Lewis.
* Mike Thibeault: Played a little against Duke on Saturday. Could have the best outside shot on the team, if he can get it off. Scrappy player who will see more time on hustle alone.