Thursday, December 07, 2006

Winning Ugly

Maryland's game against Fordham last night was one of the worst 20 point victories I've seen in a long time. For long stretches the Terps' offense looked disjointed and sloppy while the defense was solid but not spectacular. It seemed that there was still a hangover from the loss to Notre Dame on Sunday as the players were lethargic and unfocused for long stretches. Fordham held a lead until 9 minutes left in the first half but stayed within striking distance until late in the 2nd half. The Rams are a pesky guard oriented team with multi-skilled big men, just the kind of team that gave Maryland fits the last few years. Fordham also has shown an ability to create turnovers which they did with effectiveness against Maryland's young players. The real weakness of Fordham is their mediocre shooting, which prevented them from exploiting more of Maryland's defensive breakdowns. In the end Maryland's deep bench just ground down the Rams and made the final margin of victory deceptive.

Mike Jones had an excellent offensive game scoring 18 points and adding 6 rebounds. He is a streaky shooter and his first few shots of the night will usual tell the tail of how Jones will do in a particular game. There were also moments that showed why he finds the bench from time to time as his defense and ball handling deficiencies were also evident. He must have given up about 6 points due to defensive breakdowns, but that is what Jones will give you.

Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist both got into early foul trouble and only played a combined 14 minutes in the 1st half. At times Gary Williams played DJ Strawberry at the power forward spot. Bambale Osby, perhaps one of the better bench players in college basketball, came in and gave Maryland 6 points and 3 rebounds in 11 minutes of valuable production. He is one of the most effecient players on the team and has the unique ability to come off the bench and make plays immediately. Next season Osby will be able to be a regular double-double producer while playing starters minutes. Ibekwe made some impressive blocks and Gist scored 8 points in the 2nd half but neither had a good game. The were both careless with the ball and made some bad decisions when the got passes in the low post. Neither is a tough and nasty low post player, they both like floating around the lane and getting the ball with seperation from the defender.

Eric Hayes struggled again and he seems to be suffering from a lack of confidence that he displayed earlier in the season. He dribbled himself into some traps, as he did in the Notre Dame game, and made some very tentative passes that resulted in turnovers. Hayes isn't a scorer and Maryland relies on his steady hand to get the other players involved in the offense. When he struggles with his decision making he doesn't contribute much else to the team. Hopefully Hayes can get his game back on track before the game against Boston College. He has 10 turnovers and only 5 assists in his last two games. While Vasquez has received some well deserved hype recently, including in Sports Illustrated, the other players seem to be more comfortable in their roles with Hayes on the floor.

Greivis Vasquez helped to extend Maryland's lead late in the 2nd half with a number of drives to the basket that resulted in fouls. He was perfect from the floor and the foul line in the 2nd period. At times he was out of control and had his share of turnovers. He did contribute 16 points and tends to force the action a little better than Hayes with his current struggles.

DJ Strawberry didn't shoot particularly well but gave the Terps some steady ball handling while the freshmen struggled. He ended with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists which is an impressive stat line. I do wish that Strawberry would become more of a vocal on the court leader. DJ says all the right things after games but it is more important to show that kind of leadership in the court when the freshmen are struggling and the marsh mellow big men need someone to stiffen their spines. Perhaps that isn't in Strawberry's constitution and I don't mean that as a criticisms of the heroic senior. Maryland would be much better if that was part of his game. This team really needs a court leader to reach its potential.

For me the story of the game was the 25 turnovers that Maryland compiled. Fordham may be a pesky bunch but far too many of the turnovers were of the unforced kind by Maryland. Sloppy passes and ball handling resulted in way too many possession being given away to the opponent. The Terps are efficient enough on offense that they have been able to overcome the turnovers for now and the defense has helped keep opponents from going on big runs. Maryland cannot continue to be so careless with the ball once league play starts and expect to win.

On the positive side the defense, helped by Fordham's poor shooting, was able to keep the Rams to 32% from the field and 33% from the 3-point line. It is a good sign that the defense, with a few breakdowns, continues to be solid. Maryland also rebounded better and held a 14 board advantage by the end of the game.

Maryland struggled but was able to right itself during the game and fight off a Fordham team that put a scare in Tennessee earlier in the year and may make some noise in the Atlantic 10. There will be some good things for Gary Williams to work on over the next few days to get ready for Boston College. The Eagles are a tough defensive team that requires an opponent to remain patient and move the ball for a good look at the basket. If the Terps are careless with the ball or settle for quick shots it will be a very difficult game to win. In some ways Boston College is similar to the Michigan State team that gave Maryland a tough and physical game earlier in the season. They don't have much offensive firepower beyond Jared Dudley but have a pair of streaky shooters in Sean Marshal and Tyrese Rice. Two keys will be who Gary Williams defends Dudley with, my guess is Strawberry, and if Boston College can exploit Maryland's problems with offensive rebounds.

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