Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Slip sliding away

In late January of 2006 Maryland played a two game set against the technical schools of Virginia and Georgia during a critical early season stretch. After winning rather easily against the Hokies the Terps were staggered by the academic disqulification of starter Chris McCray before the Georgia Tech contest. Maryland rallied in that game and rolled the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta to raise their record to 4-2 in the ACC. It turned out that was more a last gasp than a spring board to greater things. Demoralized by McCray flunking off the team and unable to pull together, the team splintered and collapsed to lose seven of their next nine games.

In 2007 Maryland had to go down to Virginia Tech to take on an expereinced squad with some confidence after wins against Duke and North Carolina. The result was an ugly 67-64 overtime loss in a game Maryland badly needed to win. Virginia Tech isn't a particularly dangerous or formidable squad and was unable to pull away from Maryland dispite the atrocious 35% shooting by the visitors. The Terrapins shot a putrid 28.6% in the 2nd half yet were able to tie the Gobblers at the end of regulation at 59 each. Maryland even had a 13 second possession at the end of the half to win the game with a score but failed to execute, even with a de facto timeout as the officials tried to reset the game clock after it failed to start. The possession resulted in a weak baseline jump shot by James Gist that bounced harmlessly off the side of the rim.

As I've said before the seniors are not providing the level of play that Gary Williams needs to get this program back to the NCAAs again. In ACC play DJ Strawberry is shooting 14-50 from the floor for a 28% clip. He's not getting those easy transition baskets from steals he got against the early season opponents. The only reason he isn't the worst of Maryland's worries is that he has been able to get to the foul line and score there when he shot isn't falling. His four free throws at the end of the game helped send it to overtime and give Maryland a chance to tie at the end of overtime. He finished with 16 points on 5-13 shooting but also added 6 turnovers. Strawberry needs to play better if Maryland is going to get on a roll and get itself back in the NCAA tournament. I don't think DJ deserves the lion share of the critisism because he was never recruited to fill the roll of leading scorer for this Terps squad. Think back three years ago to the very raw freshman who wasn't a threat to score more than about eight feet from the basket. Now he is expected to carry the scoring load because other players have failed to develop.

As I indicated in after the last game the two seniors who were supposed to carry the load on this 2006 squad, Mike Jones and Ekene Ibekwe, are simply failing to come through when Maryland needs them most. Ibekwe had one of his worst performaces of the season on a critical night. He got into foul trouble early and finished with a measly three points and nine rebounds. As he did in the Notre Dame loss Ibekwe also added to his craptastic performance by garnering a technical foul for swiping at the face of Deron Washington after a defensive rebound. The techincal in the Nortre Dame loss helped spur the Irish to a lead they never relinquished. Ibekwe's iodiotic sequel to that loss of composure awarded Virginia Tech a single point, which at the end of regulation was enough for them to tie the game and send it to overtime. Seniors cannot make those kinds of selfish mistakes.

As for Mike Jones he wasn't much of a factor going 4-12 from the floor with 12 points. His 3-point shooting continues to decline after his 2-7 stinker against Virginia Tech and now sits at 36% in ACC games. In the closing seconds of overtime Jones made an athletic move to the basket and had a finger roll layup to get Maryland within one but it rolled out and time expired in the scramble for the rebound. Jones took all four of Maryland's shots in overtime and hit only his first, a layup. The other points Maryland scored were on free throws by Strawberry and Ibekwe. Jones isn't a reliable scorer and his 2-8 shooting in the 2nd half and overtime should cure any Maryland fans of any delusion to the contrary.

Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez had decent if unspectacular games. Each struggled to limit the dribble penetrations of Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon. Both also continue to provide little or no defensive rebounding on a team that desperately needs it. Overall you have to be pleased with how the freshmen have performed so far this year. In the second half Vasquez lead the team with 10 points and not a single turnover. He will be the cornerstone perimeter player on next years team and could even be that before this season ends. Vasquez has a better sense of critical moments in a game than any of the other players, including the seniors. Against Illinois, Virginia and Virginia Tech he came up big when other players on the team were shrinking from the spotlight.

The bench added little for the second game in a row. Bambale Osby seems to be in Gary Williams' doghouse for some reason. His disappearence from the rotation has hurt the inside game for Maryland and it is no conincidence that in the last three losses Maryland has been pummeled on rebounding margin. He needs to play better and play more often in the coming weeks. Will Bowers and Parrish Brown had a nice game against Clemson but have done little since. Both seem to have problems in game preperation when it isn't a marquee opponent, along with the rest of the team. Such is the challenge of being a bench player but neither has provided the spark off the bench that Maryland needs.

It isn't over for Maryland and several commentators from Andy Katz to Doug Gottlieb feel that the Terps can still turn things around as they have six home games left. Still there isn't much reason to be optomistic about the ability of this group to pull things together. Gary Williams had some odd post game comments but I think he is concerned about the psyche of his team that has some freshmen and seniors with fragile egos. Too many players tainted by the losing of the last few years are waiting for things to turn bad this season and Williams is trying to keep their confidence high. I think he'll have them ready to play tonight but Georgia Tech has enough talent that it may not matter unless some players on Maryland shrug off their malaise.

Interesting note: Georgia Tech is 0-4 in away games this season.

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