Terps' Offense Hitting Its Stride

Not too long ago it seemed Maryland would be resigned to an inauspicious identity: above average on defense and struggling to score. For a variety of reasons—including inexperience, sloppy play and overall effort—Maryland's early-season offense oftentimes looked sluggish and disoriented.

So the Terps watched plenty of game film, eager to figure out what hindered them. And it was easy to see: They were rushing the offense; they were improperly setting screens, if they set them at all; they didn't pass enough; they weren't playing hard. Simply, it was a mess.

"We'd run a play and before we even see if the play works, it'll be a shot," Landon Milbourne said.

Said James Gist, "We were leaving the little things out and the little things are what matter."

They took what they saw on tape and corrected it on the court—not always an easy feat, coach Gary Williams said. Now the Terps have scored more than 80 points in three straight games, proving that they do, in fact, have a capable offense. It just took some time for them to get it all together.

"It was just a matter of us figuring it out," Milbourne said. "We couldn't see it at first."

The turnaround wasn't bound to happen; the work Maryland (13-8, 3-3 ACC) put in following losses to Ohio and American made it possible. The players tirelessly critiqued the film and rededicated themselves to basketball, "which is really gratifying to see," Williams said. "When you're winning, that's easy to do. When you have a couple tough losses sometimes it's hard."

In nine games since the American loss—a stretch in which Maryland has gone 7-2—it has scored more than 75 points six times. The real outburst, though, didn't come until Maryland upset North Carolina. The Tar Heels don't have the stingiest of defenses, but Maryland's offense was clean, efficient, and in no way resembled where it was a mere month before.

Against Duke and Virginia, it was more of the same. Maryland got production from all positions on the floor, something that wasn't always happening. In particular, Milbourne, who struggled on offense early in the season, has scored in double figures in four of the last six games. His four second-chance points in the waning minutes against Virginia sealed Maryland's victory.

"We've become a more patient team and a better passing team as time has gone on," Williams said. "We're not perfect but we're playing smarter offense right now."

Said Milbourne, "We actually go through the plays and see how the defense reacts to it and we've been scoring pretty well all of the sudden."

For Gist, who's averaged 21.7 points in the last three, the team's transformation has everything to do with, simply, playing as a team. Maryland had 62 assists to just 41 turnovers (22 of which were against Duke) in the last three games. When Virginia played zone defense, which has given Maryland fits in the past, the Terps' crisp passing created open shots and easy scoring opportunities.

Maryland's 16.86 assists per game is good for second in the ACC.

It will have another chance to score big tomorrow at Georgia Tech (10-9, 3-3 ACC), which is giving up 74 points per game and allowing teams to shoot 44.8 percent from the field, both last in the ACC. But the Yellow Jackets are averaging 77.7 points per games, making them Maryland's fourth consecutive opponent with a top-five scoring offense in the ACC.

It seems, then, that the sudden offensive explosion has come just at the right time. It's certainly welcomed, but it hasn't been entirely expected.

"It's shocking to me," Gist said. "Probably to the other guys it's not as shocking, but it's more of them finding themselves and finding the team out and everything. To me it's just like we were going down a terrible road [early in the season] and it really hurt us."

And just like that, somewhere along the way, Maryland made a sharp U-turn.

Gist gives Dupree vote of confidence

Now that Maryland enters a stretch against teams with strong interior play, freshman Braxton Dupree's role could expand. Today, Gist praised his play in practice and explained what Dupree needs to do to get back in the fold.

"He just has to kind of let loose, that's his whole thing. He's too inside himself right now. I think he just has to be able to let it all out on the court because there's times during practice where Braxton is just clearly un-guardable, just cause he's that big and he can move," Gist said.

"I wish everybody had the opportunity to see the Braxton I see day in and day out. I just tell him, ‘Man, you got to open up. You just got to let it all out. Nobody can stop you, you're too big.' Even Boom has issues with him in practice sometimes. It's like nobody can really check you if you go out there and you just play your heart out and you let it all out, so I think it's just a matter of Braxton getting past that."

Jumbled ACC

For the second straight year, the ACC standings are a mess.

Just 1 1/2 games separate the conference's No. 3 team (Virginia Tech at 4-3) and No. 9 teams (Miami and N.C. State at 2-4). Maryland is in a five-way tie for fourth place at 3-3.

No team behind North Carolina and Duke has shown it's markedly better than any of the other nine teams. Florida State (2-5) and Virginia (1-5) have each dug big holes, but a brief hot streak can get them right back in the thick of things.

"It's hard to say," Williams said if asked if the ACC will begin to separate. "If somebody can from the pack—if they can get hot—yeah, then they can separate because I think the other teams will still beat up on each other. But until somebody does, it is where it is today."

Said Gist, echoing the sentiments of most, "It's pretty much up in the air."

"Sneakers and Suits" weekend

Williams and basketball coaches on all levels from around the country will wear sneakers on the sideline as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer "Sneakers and Suits" campaign. In the last 15 years, more than 500 coaches have raised nearly $40 million to benefit cancer research through the program, according to a press release.

"It's really become a big thing so we're naturally a part of that," said Williams, who is on the Coaches vs. Cancer council.

In 2006, Coaches vs. Cancer awarded Williams with the Champion Award for fundraising efforts, the program's highest honor.

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