Monday, March 20, 2006

Requiem for a team

It was an ignominious end to an entirely forgettable season for the Maryland Terrapins 2006 basketball team. In a game that no one at Maryland, except for Debbie Yow, wanted to play in it seemed that the players, coaches and even some of the fans had no interest in continuing a meaningless post season in the NIT. Mercifully no one else, except Manhattan, cared about the outcome either. With the only tournament that anyone cares about playing later that day the embarrassing loss to the Jaspers wasn't even worth the notice of anyone outside of Maryland message boards. The game was so meaningless that the Washington Post didn't even bother to send the Maryland beat reporter to cover the game.

As for the actual game it was the same sad story for Maryland in all their losses this season. Shaky ball handling that lead to 20 turnovers, porous perimeter defense that gave up nine 3-point baskets, allowing the opponent to shoot 48% and score 47 points in the first half, and dreadful shooting to the tune of 39%. The fact that it came against Manhattan might make fans even more annoyed but to me it was a minor distinction from the poor efforts that became routine this season. For Maryland it was an outcome that should not have come as a surprise. They scheduled a game that the team didn't want to play on a Saturday morning after St. Patty's day and the first day of spring break for the students. It was almost set up for an embarrassing upset. You can blame the players for a lack of pride and self respect, they certainly didn't distinguish themselves with an effort that, considering the opponent, may have been the worst effort of the season, but the administration should have said thanks but no thanks to the NCAA who wanted to use Maryland to sell television right and tickets.

DJ Strawberry reverted to his midseason form with a slew of turnovers and bad decisions. His shooting was abysmal and his defense was indifferent. When the opponents starting backcourt scores 52 points then no one was playing much defense, especially when it is the level of talent that plays for teams like Manhattan. Thankfully his time at the point guard position is now over and Parrish Brown or Eric Hayes will take over that duty.

Mike Jones was almost a non-factor in the game and had only a single point at the half. His defense was awful, even by his modest standards. Parrish Brown had moments of acceptable play during the game but his size will always be a problem. You could have blinked and missed the last moments of Sterling Ledbetter's career as he played only 8 minutes in the game. His performance, like his whole time at Maryland, was barely worth mentioning.

Nik Caner-Medley struggled to exploit his size advantage for most of the game. He was a horrendous 2-10 from the floor in the first half and it isn't clear if his ankle still wasn't full healed from the sprain in the ACC tournament. My guess is that it was not. He was often defending a small guard in what was a terrible matchup for him and not a fair thing to ask a 6-8 small forward to do. He fouled out at the end of the game and deserved a more dignified exit for his career at Maryland.

It was really almost a senior night game as Travis Garrison played most of the 2nd half and finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds. James Gist was only used sparingly in spite of having 7 points and 6 rebounds at halftime. It is somewhat fitting that in his last game in an almost empty gym against a forgettable opponent that Garrison, a supreme disappointment as a player, would have his best game of the season. Ekene Ibekwe continued his poor free throw shooting and he needs another checkup with the shot doctor he working with in the offseason. He missed both critical free throws with under a minute left and Manhattan clinging to a 3 point lead. Will Bowers barely played and Gary Williams even resorted to walk-on Gini Chukura at one point.

It was somewhat fitting that the trio of Caner-Medley, Mike Jones and Strawberry went 13-40 from the floor. That gave Maryland little chance even though they dominated the small frontcourt of Manhattan on the glass. Maryland enjoyed a +20 rebound margin and shot 13 more free throws than the Jaspers, but none of that mattered.

The loss was in some ways very appropriate for a team that could never be counted on to produce consistent effort from game to game. The fans, and even at times it seemed Gary Williams himself, never knew what team was going to show up. This team wanted its season to end with the rout by Boston College and who knows in a few years no one may remember that they actually ended the season in an empty Comcast center with a game that never mattered.

In the coming weeks I'll have a roundup of the season and a brief outlook for next year. Stay tuned.

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