For a little while during last night's win over Wake Forest it looked like Maryland was about to see another replay of the two losses to Virginia Tech this season. In both those games they had outplayed the Hokies only to give up a string of crucial baskets in the closing minutes that resulted in losses. Wake Forest knocked Maryland's double digit lead down to one point with just under two minutes left and you had to have the "here we go again" feeling. Fortunately the young Deacons bungled their last few possessions and couldn't knock down a 3-point shot even though they had open looks at the basket. The Terps kept their NCAA tournament hopes alive and escaped with a much needed win.
James Gist finally broke out of his scoring slump with a career high 31 points and 11 rebounds on 9/15 shooting. Gist admitted he got aggressive again on the offensive end and it showed with 12 free throw attempts. His wide ranging game included alley-oop dunks and 3-point daggers and showcased Gist's real value as a big man who can score from almost anywhere on the floor. When he plays like a timid shooting guard and resorts to fade away jump shots he isn't using his variety of talents and makes things very easy for the defense. Even though Gist had two blocks and three steals his defense wasn't exactly of the lock down variety but he's never been a great one-on-one defender. With his fellow frontcourt alter ego ineffective it was an even more impressive performance.
Greivis Vasquez had one of his better games of the season. He sliced and diced the Wake Forest defense for 24 points and 8 assists while making much better decisions that he had recently. He limited his turnovers to four, which for the sophomore isn't all that bad, and took much better shots. He was especially adept at getting good shots for his teammates last night and even though there were only 13 assists for the game the ball movement was much better, especially in the 1st half. With the score tied at 14 minutes remaining in the game he ripped off 7 straight points and helped give Maryland a cushion they would desperately need as they failed to make a field goal for the final 9 minutes of the game. Vasquez was able to exploit his size advantage by posting up and scoring in the low post. He played decent defense against freshman Jeff Teague who only managed to go 2/11 from the floor with at least four missed layups.
Bambale Osby had his worst game of the season without any doubt. Rumor is that he was in the emergency room as late as Tuesday with some form of illness. You could tell that Osby was weak and flatfooted on both ends of the floor, without any of his normal hustle. He failed to score and turned the ball over three times but you have to appreciate the toughness he showed in making an effort when he was clearly not healthy.
Jerome Burney gave a solid 16 minutes and put up a modest 2 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks. He didn't do anything spectacular but is providing reliable play on both ends of the floor. He had two big offensive rebounds in the last 10 minutes of the game to help Maryland hold onto the lead. His yeoman efforts make it more ridiculous by the game that he wasn't playing earlier. Thankfully Gary isn't going back to Dave Neal. Burney appears to have taken over the first big man off the bench role and will be critical against a very physical Clemson front line.
Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes struggled again as the two of them combined for 13 points and 8 turnovers. Hayes again showed some shaky decision making and didn't notch a single assist. There were several moments when Vasquez was out of the game when Hayes and Adrian Bowie both dribbled the ball off their own feet when pressured by the Deacon's guards. Milbourne had some dumb fouls, including one late in the game to cut Maryland's lead to one point, but did also have six rebounds.
Besides the dribble off the foot Bowie did a decent job in 16 minutes of play. Cliff Tucker played all 10 of his minutes in the 2nd half for some reason. He had 5 rebounds during that time which is pretty amazing, including a crucial offensive rebound with Maryland clinging to a one point lead and under two minutes in the game. The twenty six minutes that Tucker and Bowie played is a good sign but it seems that Williams feels he can't afford to leave Vasquez off the floor for very long. Williams indicated in his post game comments that perhaps he needs to learn to live with some mistakes by the younger players because the extended minutes by the starters also degrades their play.
A win is a win but this game further illustrated how thin the margin of error is for this group. Gist and Vasquez played about as good as you could expect and Maryland still had to squeak out a narrow victory. They out shot Wake Forest 49% to 37% but the 20 turnovers by Maryland and 16 offensive rebounds by the Deacons negated that huge advantage. With more production from Milbourne, Osby or some bench players the Terps would probably have won with little drama. With the lack of production from two starters and Hayes continuing his erratic play Maryland was fortunate that Wake Forest wasn't experienced or talented enough to take advantage of their mistakes. I was happy to see Gary Williams even mix in some zone defense (gasp!) to throw the Deacons off balance and keep Vasquez and Gist out of foul trouble.
Below is a chart of the ratings for all the games since the first Virginia Tech loss. Note that the defense has been fairly consistent with the exception of the Miami game but it has been the offense that has been very unreliable.