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Jeffries Has Few Answers for Underwhelming Play

April 02, 2002|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Who was the impostor wearing No. 1 for Indiana?

It couldn't possibly have been Jared Jeffries, the gifted go-to guy, the Big Ten Conference most valuable player and slam-dunk NBA first-round pick.

Whoever it was, he's No. 2 now.

Whoever it was, his four turnovers, four fouls and anemic eight-point effort were as much a reason Maryland turned Indiana's March magic into April fool's gold as anything done by the Terrapins' Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox or Juan Dixon.

Afterward, he wondered what happened.

"Right now all I can feel is that we came up short," Jeffries said. "A week from now maybe I'll feel different."

A week from now he might declare for the NBA draft, as nearly everyone expects. Or the skinny 6-foot-10, 215-pound sophomore might reflect on how he was banged around by Baxter and thumped by Wilcox. How he was beholden to Tahj Holden, a Terrapin reserve who outweighs him by 40 pounds.

"Their inside defense was great," Hoosier guard Tom Coverdale said. "They didn't need to double-team and could lock out on our outside shooters."

Another off-season in the Hoosier weight room followed by another tournament run might be a wise idea for Jeffries.

"He's a strong kid in his lower body but maybe one reason he might want to stay is to strengthen his upper body," junior guard Kyle Hornsby said. "Personally I want him to stay, he's one of the most unselfish players in the country and a good guy.

"I want what's best for him and if he thinks it's best for him to go, that's the way it will be."

If so, this wasn't the exultant exit Jeffries envisioned. He missed his first shot and made his second, a layup for Indiana's first points 1:26 into the game.

Then ... nothing.

Jeffries was tentative, timid and totally lost, missing his only other three shots in the half, turning the ball over twice, picking up fouls at the 12:03 and 12:50 marks and spending seven minutes on the bench.

The second half began similarly. Jeffries turned to shoot in the key and Baxter grabbed the ball from his hands with the ease of someone picking an orange from a tree.

Fans yelled, "C'mon J.J," and he briefly came to life along with the rest of the Hoosiers, scoring on a putback, assisting three-point baskets by Dane Fife and Hornsby, and scoring twice on inside moves to improbably put Indiana ahead, 44-42, with 9:52 to play.

But Maryland promptly went on an 11-2 run helped by an off-balance miss by Jeffries and his foul of Holden, who made two free throws.

With 4:34 to play, Jeffries took his only open jump shot and didn't draw iron, signifying the end for the Hoosiers.

Jeffries was four-of-11 shooting and finished one point shy of becoming the sixth Indiana sophomore to reach 1,000 career points. More unfinished business.

Bloomington raised, Jeffries was the national high school player of the year in 2000 and the Big Ten freshman of the year last season. He chose to wear No. 1 and reveled in leading the underdog team to the brink of a national title.

"A person is as big as his legacy," he said. "If you look at all the great Indiana players, they were on teams that won something."

Did this team win enough for him to say goodbye?

"I'm going to take a bit of time to decide what's best," he said. "This [loss] is definitely going to weigh into my decision because it's such an emotional thing.

"We should have won this game and I know I didn't play real well. I've got a lot to think over."

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