COLLEGE PARK - If shooting a basketball successfully is largely about having confidence, the Maryland Terrapins had better start playing with some in a hurry. And unless the Terps find some semblance of a shooting touch immediately, the Duke Blue Devils could add a painful chapter today to Maryland's late-season stumble.
Winning a game at close-quartered, deafening Cameron Indoor Stadium is a trying task under any circumstances. Third-ranked Duke has won 39 consecutive games there dating to 2001, marking the second-longest home winning streak in the nation, behind Pittsburgh's 40.
As the last team to pull off a victory in Durham - Maryland beat the Blue Devils there on Feb. 27, 2001 - the Terps are facing a mountain climb in this year's trip. If it expects to flirt with a huge upset over the Atlantic Coast Conference leader, Maryland simply has to make the majority of its open shots.
"When you strip everything away [from the game], you've got to put the ball in the basket. We haven't done that," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.
The Terps (13-9, 4-7), who are mired in seventh place in the ACC and probably need to win three of their last five regular-season games to make their 11th consecutive NCAA tournament, put lots of extra time into their shooting at Friday's light practice. Yesterday, they went through a full-throttle workout, then kept hoping their misfiring will end.
It can't get any worse, can it? After establishing its futility at the free-throw line early in the season and becoming the worst in the conference and one of the weakest in the country in that area, the Terps have seen the disease spread all over the floor. Its shooters have struck rock bottom of late, particularly during Maryland's two-game losing streak, as the Terps have become the ACC's last-place team in field-goal percentage (.438).
Consider that over its past four games, which include victories against Florida State and Virginia, Maryland is shooting just 36.7 percent, including 25 percent from three-point range. In the Terps' past two losses at North Carolina and against visiting Georgia Tech, they've hit new lows.
Combined, Maryland took 47 more shots than its opponents in the two defeats. No wonder. It converted only 35.6 percent of its shots overall and 22 percent from beyond the arc, and also missed a slew of put-back chances after grabbing offensive rebounds. And the Terps might be putting undue stress on their defense, which has surrendered 53 percent shooting during the two-game slide after being strong for most of the season.
Williams blamed a variety of factors for Maryland's shooting problems. The Terps still lack patience and settle for rushed, ill-advised shots, especially against well-executed zone defenses. They pass up good shots. They don't distribute the ball smartly enough when confronted with double-teams, trying to shoot through the defense instead of beating it with an extra pass.
Clearly, the Terps just aren't feeling the relaxed vibe that rarely leaves effective shooters. The 75-64 loss to Tech on Thursday featured an array of open shots that bricked off of the back of the iron or barely grazed the rim.
"We're not going to get down on ourselves. We're going to keep shooting," said sophomore guard Chris McCray, who is averaging just 9.4 points on 43.0 percent shooting. "It's not physical. It's mental."
McCray has plenty of company. During the two-game losing streak, McCray, sophomore point guard John Gilchrist, sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley and senior center Jamar Smith have combined to create some abysmal numbers. They have converted 27 of 94 shots overall (.287) and five of 30 (.167) from three-point range.
Smith is coming off a season-low three points on 1-for-12 shooting. Gilchrist is 5-for-21 in his past two games, including 1-for-8 from beyond the arc.
"These guys are learning how hard you have to work to get open, how you have to make the next pass to get the best shot," Williams said. "We're not holding a funeral. We're learning. We'll shoot the ball better as time goes on."
But even a sudden burst of good shooting might not be enough today, not against Duke in a place like Cameron. Not against a balanced team that includes dead-eye shooters such as guards J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing, strong post players such as forwards Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph, multidimensional freshman forward Luol Deng, and senior point guard Chris Duhon, who runs the show.
The Blue Devils (21-3, 10-2), who are on a two-game losing streak after dropping games at N.C. State and Wake Forest, have not lost three straight since the 1995-96 season. The Terps are staring at their first three-game losing streak in three seasons.
"We've got to execute our offense," sophomore forward Travis Garrison said. "And we've got to shoot it with confidence."
Matchup: Maryland (13-9, 4-7 ACC) vs. No. 3 Duke (21-3, 10-2)
Site: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
Time: 4 p.m.
TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)