Last night was the kind of moment to savor if you really love Maryland basketball. With all that has transpired in regards to the program since the spring of 2004 you could truly characterize it as a siege that has lasted over 18 months. The truth of that was evident in Gary Williams' emotional post game interview. His voice breaking with emotion and forced stop and compose himself several times Williams said, "It's hard...(clears throat)...that's probably as good a win as we've had since I've been here. Nobody gave us a chance to win this game. It's funny, people talk about wins but this is what its about when you coach. It's not about wins it's about this. Getting ready to play.". It also happened that the victory tied him with Charles "Lefty" Driesell for all time wins at Maryland with 348, but that wasn't where all the emotion came from.
It has been a turbulent few weeks that saw Travis Garrison charged for an altercation in a bar and Chris McCray ruled ineligible due to academics. All of it has weighed heavily on Williams I'm sure and he and the players got a chance to focus on something else for one evening. For a team that many of us have legitimate questions about in regards to character and focus this was a special night. It was perhaps the best 40 minutes of basketball this group has played in a long time. Sure the wins against Duke were nice but given all the circumstances and the loss of a starter this for me was a special performance.
There is no other player more appropriate to start with than Nik Caner-Medley, who was simply phenomenal on a night when he was most needed. He went 8-12 from the floor and 15-16 from the free throw line, scored 33 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. It simply doesn't get much better than that. He also played some solid defense and was even asked to guard Georgia Tech's leading scorer from time to time. As I've said before this is the best season Caner-Medley has ever had at Maryland. As a senior he's beginning to understand how he can most help his team win and Maryland knows they have a "go to" guy. He didn't miss a single shot in the second half on his way to piling up 22 points, now that is amazing.
Maryland got solid production from Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist, who both finished with 10 points in a very physical game. Ibekwe had some trouble guarding Ra'Sean Dickey who is far more muscular but Will Bowers got into the game and helped limit Dickey. Both Gist and Ibekwe had their minutes limited by foul trouble.
DJ Strawberry and Sterling Ledbetter combined to play a decent game at point guard. The team as a whole turned the ball over too often but they were very efficient on the offensive end and in spite of the fast pace had a rating of 108.3 for the game. Especially when the Yellow Jackets made a little run and were pressing there were several possessions where the guards on the team didn't force things and controlled the tempo. They showed more game situation awareness than they have in a long time. It was gratifying to watch the last 5 minutes.
Mike Jones made the most of his first start and scored 10 points by halftime. Foul trouble limited him in the second half but he played a solid overall game and even had a nifty assist to Gist under the hoop. He again showed he is deadly from outside and far more of a threat in that regard than Chris McCray. Jones also showed the ability to get to the foul line which will be a huge factor in him becoming a reliable and multi-dimensional scorer. Maryland fans may need to be patient with Jones since he's now learning on the job but he will steadily improve.
Will Bowers showed he is becoming a defensive stopper on the low blocks and has gotten good at preventing opposing players from setting up in the low post. With Cedric Simmons, Sheldon Williams, Tyler Hansbrough on the horizon the Terps will need him to continue his solid play. He even scored off a sweet pivot move and an offensive rebound.
It was a rather chippy game. The young players on Tech got frustrated and started taking a few cheap shots at some of the Maryland players, including Caner-Medley who was lighting them up at the time. I like Paul Hewitt but I felt the way they played was a little out of hand at times. It was clearly a physical contest with 79 foul shots and the officials probably could have called a half dozen more. The Yellow Jackets came into the game leading the ACC in rebounding but Maryland dominated them on the boards 43-32 and I don't think they were expecting that aggression from the Terps. The rematch in College Park will be an equally physical affair but let's hope it doesn't turn ugly.
Around the ACC
It wasn't a good night for the home teams. Besides Georgia Tech's loss both North Carolina and NC State dropped games last night. The most shocking loss was NC State getting blown out at home to a Seton Hall team that had lost 3 of its previous 4 games. The way Herb Sendeck's teams play they are vulnerable to these kinds of stinkers. They shot 8-30 from 3-point range and got killed on the glass by the Pirates. Trying to come back from a 40-27 halftime deficit is not the strong suit of this group. It shows that the Wolfpack are not as good as everyone thought and that the ACC is fairly mediocre this year. Still, it wasn't a league game and except for seeding probably won't effect State's chances at the NCAAs.
North Carolina lost its second home game of the year to a suddenly surging Boston College. UNC has now lost 2 out of 3 home games but has balanced that with two road victories. With road games remaining against Duke, Maryland, NC State and Miami the Tarheels will have to do a better job of protecting their home court if that want to gain an NCAA bid.