COLLEGE PARK -- Will Maryland's youth movement continue to flourish?
Nine-man depth is one of his roster's greatest assets, but there were times this winter when coach Gary Williams hesitated to use his three freshmen. The frequency of those instances has decreased, and it will be interesting to track the action for Lonny Baxter, Juan Dixon and Danny Miller at North Carolina State tonight.
The Atlantic Coast Conference game will be Maryland's last at Reynolds Coliseum, but the first for the three freshmen and junior guard Steve Francis.
Next season the Wolfpack will play in a new 20,000-seat arena. N.C. State's only losses at Reynolds this season have been to No. 1 Duke and No. 12 North Carolina. It is looking to avenge the program's worst ACC loss ever, and a win over No. 7 Maryland (20-4, 8-3) would boost its NCAA tournament chances.
Look for a boisterous crowd, with cameos by David Thompson and Tom Burleson, Terp-killers from 25 years ago.
Scenarios like that lead coaches to lean on their veterans, but after a massive contribution from the freshmen in last Saturday's win over Virginia, Williams isn't sure what look his rotation will take. "Hopefully, we're at the point where it doesn't matter anymore," Williams said of the effect of new surroundings on rookies. "We've got five games left in the regular season. Whether you're a freshman or whatever, if you're affected by that, maybe we're not as far along as I thought."
Maryland ended a two-game losing streak against Virginia. Baxter started instead of sluggish center Obinna Ekezie, and fatigue might also have been a problem for the other seniors, since point guard Terrell Stokes played 42 minutes at Clemson and Laron Profit went 35 at Duke.
Enter the bench.
"If they play well, they're going to get their chances, and that's going to make us a better team," Williams said. "Playing guys for 26 or 27 minutes, instead of 32 or 33, is to our advantage. I'm not a big guy on stats [minutes per game], but maybe we were playing guys too long."
Williams wasn't ready to name a starting center for N.C. State. Baxter is coming off two solid performances, but an established player like Ekezie probably will get more calls on the road in the ACC.
One definite is that Williams isn't about to cut into the playing time of Francis, who leads the Terps in minutes played.
Stokes went 27 minutes against Virginia, more than four below his ACC average. Francis got that extra time at the point and responded with 13 assists. He's averaging 5.7 assists in ACC games to 6.3 for the senior. Stokes, however, is 3-0 at Reynolds.
While the face of Maryland's rotation changes, N.C. State (15-8, 5-6) bears little semblance to the team that lost, 94-48, at Cole Field House one month ago today.
Sophomore forward Kenny Inge, who's averaged 18.5 points in the last four games, played with little direction in early January. Leading scorer Adam Harrington, a freshman wing, missed the first meeting with an ankle injury, which magnified the problems facing State's thin backcourt.
When things got out of hand early, coach Herb Sendek pulled junior guard Justin Gainey to save him some wear and tear, and the situation at Cole only got worse.
Now the Wolfpack has won three of its past four games, and Gainey has been on a tear. Wins at Georgia Tech and over Clemson have N.C. State on its first winning streak in the ACC in two years. Williams said that if he could change one thing about his team, it would be its rebounding, and the Wolfpack has been out-rebounded once this season.
The battle cry in both locker rooms: Remember Wake Forest.
Maryland began its ACC schedule with a lopsided win over the Demon Deacons in December. The second half of the schedule opened with a 13-point loss to that same outmanned team, and that reversal has stuck with both Maryland and N.C. State.
"We learned our lesson," Williams said. "You can play a team twice in a season, and it's going to be different the second time."
NOTE: Plans to honor the Maryland and N.C. State teams from 1974 were not realized. Thompson and Burleson, the stars on a team that beat the Terps in an epic ACC tournament final and went on to win the NCAA title, will be recognized. Len Elmore, the Terps' center in that era, will do the ESPN commentary.
Date Opponent Time
2/10 at N.C. State 7
2/13 North Carolina 4
2/21 at Georgia Tech 1: 30
2/24 Clemson 7
2/27 at Florida State 1: 30
3/4-7 ACC tournament-z TBA
z-at Charlotte, N.C.
Opponent: North Carolina State
Site: Reynolds Coliseum, Raleigh, N.C.
TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Maryland by 6
Freshmen Lonny Baxter, Juan Dixon and Danny Miller have played more for Maryland in recent weeks. Below are average minutes played in ACC games.
Player First 7 Last 4
Steve Francis 32.7 31.8
Terrell Stokes 32.6 28.5
Laron Profit 31.0 27.5
Terence Morris 30.4 29.5
Obinna Ekezie 27.1 22.0
Juan Dixon 12.6 16.8
Mike Mardesich 11.6 6.5
Danny Miller 9.6 16.3
Lonny Baxter 7.7 18.3
Pub Date: 2/10/99