Sunday, November 19, 2006

Terps show grit

We've seen the new enthusiasm, intensity, and passion of this group and on Friday night Maryland fans got to see a glimpse of their fortitude. In a gritty, physical and closely contested game against Michigan State these new Terps hung on for a close 62-60 win over the Spartans. It probably wasn't Maryland's best game of the season but the Spartans tested Maryland in the areas that they appear to be weakest at this point in the season. Maryland was able to control the course of the game as the Spartans got ahead 6-4 but never lead again. This was a very nice win against a solid Tom Izzo team that will find its way to the the NCAAs this year. The destruction of St. Johns the night before looked more impressive as the Red Storm gave a young Texas team all the could handle in the early game before losing at the end 77-76.

One of the many differences between the 2006 version of the Terps and the 2005 model is that this team seems to know the value of starting strong. DJ Strawberry scored 8 consecutive points in the first five minutes of the game and has become a go-to player for Maryland. Mike Jones struggled for most of the game but the this team found out that it can win against a quality opponent without all of its starters having a good game. Maryland's pressure defense and full court press got the Spartans out of their rhythm on offense and Drew Neitzel found very few good looks while being blanketed by Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez.

You would expect a great coach like Tom Izzo to make adjustments at halftime to counter Maryland's success. The Spartans started running double screens for Neitzel and with Eric Hayes on the bench with foul trouble Neitzel started scoring. On those double screens Maryland's big men failed time and again to give proper help defense to the guards. Will Bowers is probably the best frontcourt player on those high screens but Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist are often out of position resulting in good looks for the opponent. Teams will start running these high screens at Maryland until the frontcourt starts playing them better.

Michigan State has been a very good rebounding team for a number of years and exposed another weak area for Maryland's frontcourt. The Terps were outrebounded 21-36 and also gave up 17 offensive boards to Michigan State. This is an area that Maryland will need to continue to improve upon. Bambale Osby only logged 5 mintues due to a couple of questionable offensive fouls but may be able to contribute to shoring up this area.

Oddly enough as the Terps were teetering on a slim lead late in the game it was the seniors who made some poor decisions and keep the Spartans hanging around. There were a few poor decisions by Strawberry, Gist and Ibekwe but the freshmen did not wilt under the pressure which was a good sign. Mike Jones had a number of critical plays down the stretch to help Maryland preserve the win. He is a clutch player, perhaps the most clutch player on the team, and seems to relish having the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. He hit a big time 3 pointer, sunk two free throws and grabbed an important rebound.

Don't think I'm dwelling on the negative. If you imagined a best case scenario for Strawberry, Hayes and Vasquez it could not be better than what those three players have produced to this point. Strawberry has blossomed into a scoring wing player and got back to the disruptive and disciplined defense he had as a sophomore. Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez are playing like sophomores, not freshman with only 5 college games under their belt. Bambale Osby and Mike Jones have also done a very nice job in their respective roles. Maryland has showed if a team is going to beat them they will have to earn it with good execution on both ends of the floor. These two wins will go a long way toward getting an NCAA tournament resume for Gary Williams' bunch.

A side note on the shot clock violation controversy. This was really a non factor in the outcome of the game. Even if the ball did not touch the rim Michigan State secured the defensive rebound and usually in those cases the refs let the play continue. It was the offensive foul call on Idong Ibok for throwing his elbows at Ekene Ibekwe that helped seal the game for Maryland.

DJ Strawberry was awarded the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic Tournament MVP.

Efficiency Ratings
Offense: 100.6
Defense: 96.5

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