If No. 5 Maryland went to a go-go last Saturday, tonight it goes to a slow dance.
One week after the exhilaration of a visit to Rupp Arena and disappointment of a 103-91 loss to Kentucky, the Terps will encounter a polar opposite in college basketball fashion. As fast as the Wildcats pushed the pace, that's how deliberate Princeton wants to be at the Baltimore Arena (9: 30 p.m., ESPN).
"Nobody wants to play Princeton," Maryland point guard Terrell Stokes said. "They run the shot clock down for 30 seconds, shoot with five seconds to go. If they get an offensive rebound, they run off another 30 seconds, and that's a minute in the game. If they get the lead on you, it's hard to get it back, because they slow the game down."
The Tigers (5-2) aren't as experienced as they were last season, when they were ranked No. 8 heading into the NCAA tournament and a 27-2 record was blemished only by North Carolina and Michigan State, but they pose problems for the Terps (10-1).
With third-year coach Bill Carmody continuing to refine the concepts of predecessor Pete Carril, Princeton weaves a web that has snared many a spider.
The Tigers vacate the lane and spread the floor, and center Obinna Ekezie has never had to defend the perimeter like he'll have to tonight. If the Terps' double-teams and traps are as ineffective as they were against Kentucky, some economics major will cash in with a basket off a backdoor cut.
While the Wildcats were great preparation for a late March showdown, a date with Princeton will help Maryland in January and February. Other than third-ranked Kentucky and No. 2 Duke, there are few teams that will deign to get into a running game with Maryland.
"We can't get away from the fact that we have to play good half-court defense, because people want to get us in a half-court game," coach Gary Williams said. "Our half-court defense should be as valuable as our press."
None of Maryland's first 10 opponents shot better than 41.5 percent. Kentucky mashed the Terps to the tune of 54.2, not just in transition, but when it had to run patterns. The Wildcats made nine of their 18 three-pointers because Maryland didn't locate shooters and fight through the screens, which abetted Kentucky's motion.
Would you believe that Princeton has curled off enough picks to attempt 27 three-pointers a game, a figure that led designated gunner Juan Dixon to jokingly ask if he could transfer there? When the Tigers don't get a layup, they take a three.
Princeton lost by 16 to Lafayette and by one to Western Illinois, but the Tigers have toughened as they have gotten older and rTC healthier. Forward Gabe Lewullis and guard Brian Earl are joined by sophomore C. J. Chapman and freshmen Chris Krug and Chris Young, as Carmody called on a heralded recruiting class that is eight-deep.
"I wouldn't say they're extraordinary athletes, but they're a little better than Princeton is used to seeing," Earl said of the freshmen. "These kids can run fast, and they can jump, but we're playing Maryland. We're not going to jump higher than them."
The prospect of challenging the likes of Steve Francis and Terence Morris isn't as daunting as it was during a 2-2 start.
"A couple of weeks back, I wondered if it would ever come together," Earl said. "Young is our center, and that's a tough position to learn in our offense. It doesn't make sense to people who have never seen it before. It didn't make sense to me when I was a freshman.
"You run into teammates at the beginning, and screw things up, but by the middle of your freshman year you start to feel confident. Gabe and I were in the same position three years ago."
Lewullis capped that 1995-96 campaign and Carril's career with a baseline cut that bounced defending champion UCLA out of the NCAA tournament. He and Earl have helped Carmody compile a 56-8 record as a head coach, and despite their roster turnover, the Tigers will not concede the Ivy League title to Penn.
That was the scenario a month ago, when a series of injuries slowed Princeton's progress. Young was bothered by the effects of a stress fracture he suffered in high school, and Lewullis still misses every third practice because of tendinitis in a knee.
"The first few games Young was wide-eyed, but the last few, we've gotten consistency from him," Carmody said. "He was on his way to a good game against Alabama-Birmingham, until he got into foul trouble."
The Tigers got the Terps' attention Tuesday with a 69-57 win at UAB, one of the best teams in Conference USA. This is easily their toughest test: a sellout crowd and a Maryland team eager to do whatever it takes, be it pressure or patience to begin a new win streak.
"It's going to be a fun night, that's for sure," Williams said. "As long as we win."
NOTES: The match was brokered by ESPN, and there is no return game to Princeton. Dixon, the Calvert Hall product, has a team-high 18 three-pointers, but only one in the last three games. Princeton is basically using six players, as its sick call includes a knee injury to 6-5 freshman Eugene Baah. Earl (17.9 ppg) and Lewullis (17.7) did not come out of the game at UAB. Earl has 1,111 career points, Lewullis 957. Maryland's three-point shooting (.378) is better than Princeton's (.333), but the Tigers (.792 to .683) are far superior at the free-throw line.
Site: Baltimore Arena
When: Tonight, 9: 30
TV/Radio: ESPN/WMAL (630 AM), WBAL (1090 AM)
Tickets: Sold out
Terps at the Arena
This is the seventh straight season Gary Williams has brought Maryland to the Baltimore Arena. Past results:
Date, Opponent, Result
2/28/98 Temple W, 83-66
1/21/97 Penn W, 103-73
11/27/95 Towson W, 70-67
12/10/94 UMass L, 85-74
12/23/93 Towson W, 109-71
1/19/93 Oklahoma W, 89-78
Pub Date: 12/19/98