Monday, February 12, 2007

Terps take step forward

The Duke team that Maryland defeated on Sunday 72-60 isn't close to the level of the recent versions of Duke with JJ Redick and Sheldon Williams. The twelve point defeat by Maryland was the worst loss of the season for this Duke team, however, and they had dropped three games against Virginia, Virginia Tech and Florida State by a combined five points. Without a few bad bounces or unlikely baskets by those opponents Duke could have come into College Park sitting near the top of the ACC with an 8-2 record. With so much parity in the ACC that is the margin between bubble teams and the top of the standings. This Duke squad maximizes its talent and plays sound defense. They were in command against a vastly more talented North Carolina team until they ran out of gas in the last few minutes. The reports of Duke's demise are greatly exaggerated.

Maryland needed to play a fundamentally sound game on both ends of the floor to win. Duke's ball handling problems came back to haunt them against Maryland's pressure. Duke had 17 turnovers, 7 by Greg Paulus, and only 9 assists. The Terp's pressure seemed to flummox Duke in the half court and got them to take contested jump shots for most of the first half. Josh McRoberts has the tools to be a dominant scoring threat but lacks the mindset to make himself one. His lack of touches in the post helped Maryland limit Duke to 43% shooting from the floor. Maryland in contrast was able to take care of the basketball with only 15 turnovers in an encouraging trend down from earlier in the season while recording 14 assists. A number of baskets came off steals and in transition which helped Maryland shoot 48% for the game. The guards for Maryland were also able to exploit Duke's slower backcourt for dribble penetrations.

In short it was the kind of team effort that has been lacking since early in the year. The team was focused and energized from the opening moments, in contrast to the lethargic effort against Virginia. DJ Strawberry had an excellent game and his 10 points, on only seven field goal attempts, don't tell the story of how important he was to Maryland's win. He also, along with Mike Jones, added some critical rebounding from the wing players that had been sorely lacking recently. Jones and Strawberry combined for 10 rebounds. He also showed some leadership and took charge during some critical stretches for Maryland.

James Gist had another double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He disappeared at points in the 2nd half but was a force in the 12 minutes he played in the first half and racked up 10 points and 5 rebounds. It was good to see him bounce back from a poor game against Virginia which is a good sign for his continued development.

Greivis Vasquez was a tornado of energy as he lead the team with 18 points. At times he got out of control and it seems fans will have to live with his cocky attitude that goes a little far at times. He did carry the team for a stretch in the 2nd half as Duke was making a run to close within seven points. His ability to dribble penetrate got Maryland through some rocky stretches in the half court offense. Vasquez seems to play his best when the lights are brightest and the opponent the most intimidating. Fans are getting a glimpse of what could be a special career at Maryland for Greivis.

Ekene Ibekwe had one of his better games of the season. His stat line was solid but modest with 13 points and 7 rebounds, while limited to 29 minutes due to foul trouble. He did a much better job of playing within his abilities and not forcing shots, while sharing the ball more than normal. He also was active on the defensive end. Maryland needs these kinds of solid, if less spectacular, nights from Ibekwe instead of 17 points nights where he forces too many shots and disrupts the offense.

Will Bowers had a great game off the bench. His contribution in the first half was critical as Gist and Ibekwe both had early foul trouble. His 5 points and 1 rebound won't get much notice but his defense and scrappy play helped Maryland tremendously.

Bambale Osby continues to be in Williams' dog house and it seems to have shaken his confidence a little. He is thinking too much and it is causing him to make mistakes. He was limited to seven minutes of playing time and had to put up with the mismatch of guarding McRoberts. That isn't a fair matchup for Osby without a double team. Not that Gist, Bowers or Ibekwe limited McRoberts either as he scored 16 points in the 2nd half with Osby only in the game for 4 minutes. Maryland needs Osby to continue to contribute and Williams needs to do a better job of getting Bambale back to doing what he was doing in the early part of the season. Hustling, rebounding and setting screens should be his primary goal.

Overall it was a very solid game, perhaps the most solid league game Maryland has played all season. Now the Terps go on the road to NC State and Clemson. Hopefully this group realizes that unless they are able to grab one of those games this Duke win won't matter much, a lesson their predecessors never learned.

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