In college a team is often a reflection of its coach and therefore you'd expect that Maryland would have given a great effort yesterday against Clemson. Few coaches thrive better on adversity than Gary Williams. Tell him his team stinks, that they won't accomplish anything this season, that he made mistakes recruiting his current bunch and it motivates him even more. After the horrid night against Miami which set all kinds of ignominious records for a Williams' team you'd assume that they would come up with a supreme effort in their next game. After besting unbeaten Clemson you'd have to conclude they did just that.
In the biggest home game of the year there was a palpable sense of urgency at Comcast Center. The crowd was the most raucous of the season, even though the students won't be back on campus until the next home game. The Terps came out with some great intensity and hustled to cultivate a 6 point lead after the first five minutes. The lead seesawed for most of the first half until Maryland stretched the lead in the last few minutes of the half. The officials spoke to Terrapin players as the intensity rose to ferocious level at certain points. Greivis Vasquez came very close to getting a techincal as he was stared down by an official for voicing his disagreement over a call.
Maryland lead by anywhere from 5-8 points for most of the second half. Clemson methodically chipped away at the margin and then the Terps would make a little run to get more breathing room. Clemson is too sound a team to be blown away. They are an experienced bunch that play with great poise and confidence. The Tigers hung tough the whole game and kept the pressure on Maryland for the whole second half. The seniors for Maryland finally played big when the Terps needed them to in an important game. It was an encouraging development because Maryland needs players like Ekene Ibekwe, DJ Strawberry and Mike Jones to play better than they have recently.
Ibekwe broke out of his slump, at least for one game, with a 20 point 10 rebound performance. His quickness on the blocks gave the slower and heavier Clemson frontcourt some problems, but also resulted in offensive rebounds for the Tigers and 5 turnovers. Ibekwe will turn the ball over more than you'd like because of his lack of upper body strength, which also makes him vulnerable to powerful forwards like James Mays who dominated with 10 offensive rebounds. When Ibekwe can provide 20 scoring and some shot blocking you can live with those deficiencies.
I'd like to see Strawberry assert himself more often on the offensive end. His is the best slasher that Maryland has and usually makes good things happen when he drives to the basket. He was able to do that yesterday and booked a team high 6 assists with only 2 turnovers. I would like to see him rebound a little better, along with the other guards. The big men for Maryland are not naturally good rebounders and need the backcourt to help with defensive rebounding. Strawberry and Gist called a team meeting on Thursday to impress on their teammates that they needed to be ready for the Tigers. Hopefully that duo can develop into the team leaders that Maryland really needs.
Mike Jones had a very quiet 10 points and did not play his best game. Two rebounds in 25 minutes for a player like Jones is inexplicable. He needs to step up his intensity on defense and go to the glass like a wild animal. He needs to be more consistent if Maryland is going to make its way to the NCAAs.
Two seniors off the bench, Parrish Brown and Will Bowers, made huge contributions in the 2nd half. Brown played 11 mistake free minutes while scoring 8 points, including a big 3 pointer. He made some nice plays including drawing an offensive foul. Gary Williams even questioned if he had used his bench enough in the Miami loss and it seems Brown was making his case to see more minutes. It was very nice to see Bowers, who has been written off by the majority of Maryland fans (including me), play such a solid game off the bench. He was able to do a very nice job on Mays when Ibekwe struggled to keep Mays off the block. Three rebounds and six points in just 12 minutes is a great night for any player. I hope that this motivates Bowers because Maryland is much better when he can come off the bench and contribute.
Freshmen Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez both played well in the biggest game of their career so far. They could both cut down on their turnovers but you have to expect that from freshmen playing a demanding role. I'd really like to see Hayes shoot more. He is probably the best shooter on the team besides Mike Jones but is more consistent. He can be deadly from the outside and gets overlooked in the scouting report. He will have more opportunities as ACC play continues and he needs to become more assertive in taking scoring chances, especially from the 3 point line.
Bambale Osby was solid off the bench as usual. He grabbed three rebounds and sunk 5 free throws in 12 minutes. He's a great bench player who just does what he's asked to and hustles.
Maryland's defense was good, but not great. They allowed Mays to wreak havoc in the lane and KC Rivers scored some threes on Strawberry to help Clemson stay close. Eric Hayes struggled to contain Vernon Hamilton's dribble penetrations. The ball handling against Clemson's press was a little shaky at times and the decision making on some of the passing helped contribute to twenty Maryland turnovers.
All those problems are legitimate and need to be addressed if Maryland's NCAA hopes are going to survive the upcoming road trip. Still, Clemson is a fine team that is well coached by Oliver Purnell. To me they are clearly the second best team in the ACC right now. They don't have any horrible losses like other teams do and have much better poise and balance than other squads in the league. After seeing them in person I was very impressed with their blend of experience and athleticism. This team has a chance to go far in the postseason so Maryland's win shouldn't be minimized.