All-for-one Terps getting it together

THE BALTIMORE SUN

COLLEGE PARK - Maryland's first-half lead over Virginia on Wednesday night, once nine points, was in the process of being reduced to nothing when Terrapins coach Gary Williams signaled for a timeout.

Clearly agitated yet plenty composed, Williams met the Terps several feet in front of Maryland's bench and delivered a passionate lecture.

Huddled tightly around Williams, the Terps wrapped their arms around one another as they absorbed his message.

"We just wanted to make sure that everybody was staying positive," said junior guard Chris McCray, who fought through a painful tailbone injury to score 12 points in the Terps' 82-68 win, though it was his defense on the Cavaliers' Devin Smith that Maryland needed most.

McCray said that the Terps have performed the act of solidarity in the huddle before, but didn't deny it might carry a little extra significance lately.

In a little more than a month, the Terps have lost one player (Hassan Fofana) to a transfer and suffered through two lopsided Atlantic Coast Conference road losses that led to debate about whether they have what it takes to make a 12th straight NCAA tournament appearance.

Williams publicly said that he has had some issues with point guard John Gilchrist, the team's most decorated player, and then perhaps the most damaging blow came on Wednesday when the Terps learned they would be without their top reserve, guard D.J. Strawberry, for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Several players said that while the chain of events might cause the appearance of a team in turmoil, the Terps are comfortable with their situation - 11-4 overall and 2-2 in the ACC (tied for fifth) entering Sunday's home game vs. North Carolina State.

"You have to look at each game as very important," Williams said of the Terps, who have 12 regular-season games left - all in the ACC.

The Terps have started to get contributions from reserves like Will Bowers, Mike Jones and Sterling Ledbetter. Junior forward Nik Caner-Medley has 82 points in his past three games, picking up the scoring void left by Gilchrist, who is struggling with his role in the Terps' offense.

"We went through this last year," McCray said. "We lost a couple of games and everybody fell off our shoulders. Nobody was talking about Maryland or they were saying, 'Maryland is not going to make the tournament.'

"Losing D.J. definitely hurts, but we still have guys that can come in and play well. We know if one of us goes down, we have somebody behind us that can step up without a drop-off."

Sophomore center Ekene Ibekwe also showed signs on Wednesday that he has broken out of a slump, getting 12 points and six rebounds.

Ibekwe admitted that after six straight games of scoring in single figures, his confidence was sagging slightly until he was given a pep talk by Strawberry. And the talk came after Strawberry was still grappling with the news that he would miss the rest of the season.

"I am obviously out of position, but when you have teammates who back you up and know what you are going through, it makes things a lot better," Ibekwe said.

The Terps had a team meeting after the Wake Forest loss last week, and they have shown signs of growth since. Gilchrist and McCray engaged in a spirited on-court conversation in the second half Wednesday; however, it ended with McCray playfully patting the point guard on the head.

Freshman forward James Gist, who didn't play in the second half against Virginia - "He has to play hard," Williams said later - was one of the first Terps off the bench to congratulate teammates.

And perhaps the most telling sign has come from how the Terps have supported Gilchrist, who has made just four of 18 shots since being benched for the second half against Wake Forest.

"Right now, the way John is playing and the way that he's carrying himself, we are going to be tough to beat, period," Caner-Medley said. "He's doing everything that he can to get wins. Anybody that says he's a selfish player, if you watched him over the last few games, he's been the complete opposite."

Next for Maryland

Matchup: N.C. State (11-6, 1-3) vs. Maryland (11-4, 2-2)

Site: Comcast Center, College Park

When: Sunday, 6 p.m.

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

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