Terps' slump has no defense

If a team fails to shoot well or play solid defense in this season's much-improved Atlantic Coast Conference, that team is most likely in trouble.

Say hello to the Maryland Terrapins, who are, considering their much-publicized talent, the most troubled team in the league.


Defense, or lack thereof, is weighing most heavily on 13th-ranked Maryland's minds, and Saturday's 96-82 loss at top-ranked North Carolina underscored the problem.

The Tar Heels absorbed an inspired first half by Maryland, which outworked Carolina on the boards and surprised the Tar Heels for a while with some well-designed traps that created a spurt of turnovers and easy baskets.


But the script changed in the second half, which has become a time bomb for the Terps' defense. Carolina rolled up 53 points, as guards Joe Forte and Max Owens and forward Jason Capel took turns sinking wide-open shots. The Tar Heels made the extra pass, found open shooters against Maryland's traps, beat the Terps badly with fast breaks and took them out with a 19-7 run in the middle of the half.

During their 1-4 slide that has left them with as many ACC losses as they had all of last season, the Terps have given up an average of 49 second-half points in the four defeats. The Terps have countered by scoring an average of 37 in the second half.

"You miss shots. That happens," said senior forward Terence Morris, who has missed 20 of 28 in the past two losses. "But we've got to keep playing defense. It's like we take one step forward, then we come out in the second half and take two steps back.

"We paid for it when [Carolina] adjusted to the traps. We just couldn't stop anybody. Sometimes, we can't move our feet at all. If we get our defense straight, we're one of the top teams in the nation. We have to do it, or I don't know where we're going to be at the end of the season."

The Terps could be playing themselves into a No. 7 or 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, which is dangerous first-round territory.

Right now, the Terps (15-8, 6-5) are a team that can't cover, especially on the perimeter. In ACC play, they have allowed opponents to shoot 40 percent from three-point range, last in the conference.

At Carolina, they broke down on defense in every way. If they weren't slow to switch or fight through screens, they were late getting back, as the Tar Heels revved up their fast break. And neither Byron Mouton nor Danny Miller could contain Capel, who scored a career-high 27 points. He made four of five three-point attempts.

Meanwhile, 6-foot-6, 270-pound Julius Peppers (career-high 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting), an imposing pass rusher for the Carolina football team, proved to be a physical mismatch inside for Morris.


To their credit, the Tar Heels shot a sizzling 58.3 percent, by far the best anyone has done against the Terps. But it's not as if Maryland bothered Carolina's shooters that often.

"On defense, there's not many stats involved. You need five guys playing really good defense against a team like Carolina at all times," Terps coach Gary Williams said. "You can't have one guy get lost. Good teams see where your weaknesses are."

Maryland's weaknesses these days extend to both ends of the floor. What has happened to the team that shot well a year ago, en route to a 25-10 season? The Terps have shot just 30.8 percent from three-point range in the past three games, and have failed to shoot better than 43 percent overall in those contests.

On Saturday, Williams was not happy with Maryland's shot selection and impatience, especially after the Terps had fallen behind by 15 with 7:40 left in the game.

Morris and Juan Dixon are stuck in the most glaring slumps. Dixon had made only 13 of 41 three-point attempts against the ACC (31.7 percent). And the problems have fanned out in disturbing fashion.

In his past three games, Mouton has produced a total of eight points. He played nine minutes against the Tar Heels, while Miller came off the bench to play 27 minutes, scoring five points.


What has happened to Maryland's much-touted depth? Other than the surging Drew Nicholas, who has 31 points in his past two efforts, the bench has fallen silent.

Miller has nine points in his past four games. Mike Mardesich has six points in his past four games. Tahj Holden has followed up a career-best effort against Duke with 10 points in his past four outings.

"My shots were going in and out [against Carolina]. They looked good when they left my hand, but they weren't falling for me," Dixon said. "It's not a confidence problem. We've just got to keep on shooting. We've got to get it going."

With six regular-season games left, including trips to Wake Forest and Duke and four tests at home starting with Florida State on Wednesday, the Terps need to wake up soon.