Maryland's McCray has some pointed criticism - of himself

COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK - The growing pains were clearly written on the face of sophomore guard Chris McCray.

In the aftermath of a close loss to top-ranked Duke, McCray blamed, among other things, himself. Yesterday, his self-critique retained its sting.


As Maryland prepared for tonight's visit to Clemson, a game that looms large in importance as the Terps (10-5, 1-3) settle into the last three-quarters of their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, McCray essentially looked in the mirror and said it's time for Maryland's shooting guard to reawaken.

Lately, McCray has not done much shooting or scoring. Lately, the off-guard, typically the leading scorer in the Terps' offense, has just been off.


"I'm taking fewer shots, and I don't know why," McCray said. "I haven't been as aggressive. I've thought about it. When I was more aggressive, my team was winning. I have to start taking more shots, get back on that page."

McCray has a point. In nine of his first 11 games, the 6-foot-5 player from Fairmont Heights High scored in double figures. Since then, McCray has gone four consecutive games without breaking the double-figure mark.

He is averaging just 6.0 points in those four games, yet he is not in a full-blown shooting slump. He has taken only 5.5 shots per game during his scoring drought, despite averaging 28 minutes.

His overall scoring average has fallen to 10.3 points, fourth place on the team. And it could be affecting his play at the defensive end, where McCray has just three steals in the past four games.

That is part of the reason the Terps are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak in nearly three years and avert their first 1-4 start in ACC play since 1993 - the last year Maryland did not make the NCAA tournament.

Terps coach Gary Williams chalked up McCray's recent struggles by pointing to his age. As a young first-year starter who inherited the job from Drew Nicholas, a steady scoring threat who rode the bench for three years behind Juan Dixon - the top scorer in school history and the heart of Maryland's NCAA title team - McCray has some gigantic shoes to fill.

Dixon scored in double figures in each of the last 54 games of his career. Nicholas missed the double-figure mark only once in 31 games last season. But those players were fairly seasoned go-to types by the time they became starters.

As a freshman, McCray averaged 3.1 points and 9.3 minutes over 25 games and did not play in five of the Terps' last six contests.


"Chris McCray does some really good things out there, but he is a sophomore who is learning to be a full-time starter," said Williams, who likes McCray's ability and willingness to pass and defend.

Williams attributed part of McCray's low scoring to indecision, part of it to the inconsistency that has hampered the young players entrusted with the Maryland offense.

Earlier in the season, Williams rode McCray about hesitating to take advantage of open looks at the basket - looks that disappear quickly in the presence of ACC defenders. McCray snapped out of that funk by shooting decisively and successfully with a 16-point effort that helped the Terps beat then-No. 15 Wisconsin last month. He then became a regular scoring threat for a while.

But the old habits have crept back into his offensive game. On the season, McCray is taking fewer then eight shots per game, despite averaging 30 minutes.

"I don't harp on whether they make it or miss it. I harp on when they don't take [open shots], or when they take it when they're not open," Williams said.

"You don't want [McCray] to force it. You've also got to look at our offense and see how we're getting him open. He's a good shooter, so we want the good shooters to shoot the ball. I think he's passed up some shots, and he's got to let it go."


In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether freshman guard Mike Jones will take a bite out of McCray's playing time later.

Jones, who looked lost in the season's first month, has come on to become the eighth man in the Maryland rotation. His defense and rebounding have improved, and he already possessed a beautiful jump shot when he arrived in College Park.

Jones came off the bench to score five points in nine minutes in a victory over North Carolina. He scored four first-half points that kept the Terps from falling way behind early. In his last three games, all against ACC competition, he has averaged 4.7 points and 8.7 minutes.

"You have to be a team player. Minutes to me is not really a big thing, as long as I can get out there and contribute," Jones said.

Said Williams: "If you can shoot the ball, great. But it doesn't matter if you're not aggressive. Mike is starting to get that now. He looks like he belongs."

McCray's slump


Maryland shooting guard Chris McCray has slumped of late. Here are his scoring statistics from the Terps' first 11 games compared to the past four:

Stat First 11 Past 4

Points 11.8 6.0

Field goals 43 for 92 8 for 22

Field-goal pct. .467 .364

Terps tonight


Matchup: Maryland (10-5, 1-3) vs. Clemson (8-8, 1-4)

Site: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C.

Time: 6:30

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)