College Park -- Maryland senior guard D.J. Strawberry smiled sheepishly yesterday when he admitted a fear inherent in some guards, especially younger ones.
It's a fear of getting bruised, battered and whacked when competing for rebounds with the big men under the basket. Strawberry said that earlier in the season the Maryland guards "expected" their post players to take care of that responsibility.
"We really didn't think we had to get in there as much," he said. "If something came off long, we'd probably get them, but we really weren't getting five people to the boards and boxing our men out.
"We just have to get it in our minds that if we want to win games, we have to be able to rebound the ball, all five people including the point guard," he said. "We have to get in there and mix it up and not be afraid ... in terms of getting hit."
The desire to win has seemingly overridden any apprehension about an elbow to the head, as the Terps were outrebounded in seven of their first nine Atlantic Coast Conference games but not once during their three-game winning streak. Tonight's 9 o'clock game against visiting Florida State (17-10, 5-8 ACC) will be a good gauge of how far Maryland (20-7, 6-6) has come, considering the Seminoles outrebounded Maryland 33-19 when the Terps lost in Tallahassee, Fla., on Jan. 30.
"We know that we're going to have to rebound in order to win this game," said Strawberry, who has averaged 20 points and 5.5 rebounds in Maryland's past two games. "We're going to have to have better rebounding from our guards. Down there we didn't get any rebounding from our guard position. It's just a matter of getting in there and sometimes you're going to take a hit. You have to take the hit and come up with the rebound, you have to."
The Seminoles are still without starting point guard Toney Douglas, who has missed the past three games with a fractured bone in his right hand.
The one player who can take over a game, though, hasn't gone anywhere. Senior standout Al Thornton leads the league in scoring (22.4 points) and rebounding (8.6) in ACC games. He accounted for 30 points and 16 rebounds in the Seminoles' 73-70 loss at Virginia on Saturday.
"He's not just a problem for us," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "I just watched about six games in the last couple of days. He's a problem, period."
The Terps' two freshman guards, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez, didn't grab any rebounds the last time these teams met. They've combined to average 4.2 in the past three wins.
"Eric is a little skinny in there," Strawberry said of his 6-foot-3, 175-pound teammate. "He's afraid to get hit sometimes, but he gets down there sometimes and gets some big rebounds."
It's a phase that's not uncommon, said Williams, a former guard.
"It is a lot more physical," he said. "The thing they find out quick is you've got to go to the ball. In high school you get away with waiting for the ball to come to you. If you wait for the ball to come to you at the college level, somebody is going to get in there before you do. You've got to get beat a couple of times and then you start to figure out that it's a different game in terms of rebounding at this level."
Reserve forward Will Bowers said the Florida State game was "probably the worst we played all season." He attributed that to a nearly nonexistent defensive effort and poor rebounding - the two areas the Terps have shown the most improvement in this month.
"Mainly after the Florida State game you could see it with the guards, they're being a lot more aggressive on the defensive glass coming in, helping us out," Bowers said. "That's been a big reason why we've been able to score a lot more transition buckets. Once you get the defensive rebound secured, you can get out in the lane and start running. It's a lot easier to score easy points that way."
The loss at Florida State was also a defining moment for other reasons. It dropped Maryland to 2-5 in the conference and one game out of last place in the ACC standings.
"I think that was rock bottom for us, but from there we only can go up," Strawberry said. "We're not finished. We still have a lot to prove. We're just .500 in the league. We're not satisfied with that. We think we're a better team than a .500 team. We want to come out and prove that in these last four games."
ACC and RPI
Boding well for the conference's NCAA tournament bid hopes, nine ACC teams are ranked in the top 50 of the Rating Percentage Index:
RPI School ACC Overall
2 North Carolina 9-3 23-4
10 Duke 7-6 20-7
19 Maryland 6-6 20-7
25 Virginia Tech 8-4 18-8
26 Boston College 9-4 18-8
30 Clemson 5-7 19-7
35 Virginia 9-3 18-7
39 Florida State 5-8 17-10
46 Georgia Tech 5-7 17-9
Note: The RPI is derived from three components: Division I winning percentage (25 percent), schedule strength (50 percent) and opponents' schedule strength (25 percent).