COLLEGE PARK - Their shooting is better than it was at this time last season, but the Maryland Terrapins still entered the week ranked ninth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in field-goal percentage.
The Terps' performance from the foul line has improved significantly, yet their three-point accuracy has gotten marginally worse. Assists and scoring average are both up, but so are turnover totals.
As Maryland coach Gary Williams discussed his team's offense yesterday, he offered a review that was as mixed as the statistics it has produced.
"We're making more shots because we're probably a year older, which helps us," said Williams, whose team is shooting 47 percent from the field, 71 percent from the line and 33 percent from three-point range. "But we're still not scoring inside as well as we did with Jamar Smith in the lineup. That's got to change. This is the time of the year where you have to really start executing your offense."
Over the course of the next two weeks, the 24th-ranked Terps (6-2) will play three teams they are expected to handle, starting tonight with American University at Comcast Center. With ACC road contests against No. 4 North Carolina (Jan. 8) and No. 5 Wake Forest (Jan. 11) looming, this three-game stretch, which also features post-Christmas home games vs. Liberty and Mount St. Mary's, is crucial for several reasons.
For one, the Terps are still looking to establish a consistent low-post scorer before the bulk of their ACC season begins. Sophomore center Ekene Ibekwe has been spectacular at times, but there also have been three games in which he has been held to five points or fewer. After starting the season with 21 points against Jackson State, junior forward Travis Garrison has been in single digits for four of the past seven games.
Both players fouled out in the second half of Maryland's 90-88 overtime victory over Florida State on Sunday, the second disqualification for each.
"I think we are holding our own right now," said Garrison, who admitted that his right elbow, which he said suffered nerve damage in the loss to Wisconsin last month, still bothers him, though he declined to use it as an excuse. "Obviously, we can do a lot better. Everybody can progress."
Williams also would like to see improvement on the boards, as the Terps were dominated in that category against Florida State, losing the rebound battle, 56-44. A team-high 13 were pulled down by point guard John Gilchrist, who is tied for the team lead with 6.4 rebounds a game, along with leading the team in scoring, assists and steals.
"That's good news and bad news," said Williams, who will be facing the school tonight that gave him his first head-coaching job in 1978. Williams is 8-0 against American and his team won last season's meeting by 31 points. "It's great to have a point guard that can rebound like that, but what about the other guys? Where were they?"
More than anything, the next three games present the last opportunity for reserves such as Mike Jones and Will Bowers to prove to their coach that they deserve more minutes. Both were key factors in the Florida State victory as Jones hit a crucial three-pointer in overtime and Bowers stepped in on a depleted front line and had five rebounds and two blocks.
Said Jones: "Hitting a big shot like that, I tend to ponder it for a while and then eventually the confidence is there and things happen the next game."
"They had to play," said Williams, who added that Jones' shot likely will earn him more playing time. "It was good because it forced me to play them, whether I wanted to or not. There was nobody there to put in and they came through. ... It was a good sign that our bench is capable of playing in big games No. 1, and No. 2, we can get by sometimes if we don't play our best basketball."
NOTES: The Terps' bench will be considerably thinner for tonight's game as senior reserves Mike Grinnon and Darien Henry are out after undergoing surgery yesterday. Grinnon had oral surgery and may only miss one game. Henry had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and while there was no ligament damage, Williams said he'll still be out for three to four weeks. Down to 10 available players, Maryland has added walk-on Gini Chukura, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound sophomore forward who impressed the coaching staff during walk-on tryouts in October. Chukura, a former teammate of Terps freshman James Gist at Good Counsel High in Wheaton, will not be available tonight because he is still going through the NCAA clearinghouse process. ... Maryland is encouraging fans to bring unwrapped toys to tonight's game for the Toys for Tots program.
Matchup: No. 24 Maryland (6-2) vs. American (5-2)
Site: Comcast Center, College Park
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)