Maryland looked a little shaky in the 1st half of yesterday's game against NC State. The hot shooting that had carried them to early leads in the last few games was absent and the Wolfpack staked an early lead as Maryland failed to hit a basket for the first three and a half minuted of the game. It was the largest first half deficit that Maryland had faced since the Wake Forest game. The Wolfpack were finding some holes in Maryland's defense and the Terps were taking contested shots on the offensive end. The team clearly looked out of sync. It was just the kind of moment you need your seniors to step up and carry your squad when things are not going well.
I'd say James Gist certainly fit the bill last night. His 18 points in the first half kept Maryland in the game when no one else was doing anything. He went 7/11 from the floor in the half and added 5 rebounds and 3 blocks to go along with over half of his team's 31 points. With the help of Gist's heroics the Terps clawed back into the game and tied it just before halftime. A foul of Gavin Grant with less than a second left on the clock gave NC State a two point advantage going into halftime. The momentum was clearly shifting to the Terrapins. In an eight minute span from 3 minutes left in the first half to 5 minutes into the 2nd half Maryland went on a 28-7 run and blew away the Wolfpack.
The 2nd half offense by Maryland was a clinic. State's defense got shredded by crisp passing and slashing drives in the lane. The Terps hit 10 of their first 11 shots after halftime mostly on dunks and layups. Greivis Vasquez tied the Maryland single game record with 15 assists while bedeviling State's bigger perimeter defenders. Grant and Courtney Fells were too slow to guard him and Vasquez out muscled Javier Gonzalez. You don't need to check that box score again because Maryland did indeed shoot 74% from the floor. After Maryland came out after halftime and delivered some counter blows to NC State it seemed the fight went out of them. It was an intense game and well played in stretches but there was a sense that the Wolfpack players had a "here we go again" feeling as their lead evaporated in the first moments of the 2nd half.
Defensively Maryland has fallen off a little from where they were earlier in the season. Some of that is related to playing better opponents but it may also have something to do with the offense blossoming over the last few weeks. The team is working much harder to set screens and make cuts on the offensive end and I think that is taking away a little from the defense. The defense is still very good but not outstanding. With the way the offense has improved that is a trade you would be willing to make. The high level of minutes that the starters are playing is also factoring into some defensive lapses. Over the last five games Maryland's opponents have shot 42.2% in the first half and 49% in the 2nd half. To me it is obvious that the fatigue of playing 30+ minutes wears down some of the players.
Yesterday may have been one of the better rebounding performances of the season. NC State only grabbed 6 offensive rebounds, though it isn't really a strength of their's, and were out rebounded by Maryland 36-26. Some of that had to due with the torrid shooting by the Terps, there were only 7 defensive rebounds to be had in the 2nd half.
Greivis Vasquez tied the single game assist record with 15, set by Terrell Stokes against Western Carolina in 1998. Vasquez did set the Maryland record for assists in an ACC game, besting Steve Blake's 14 against North Carolina in 2002. Vasquez didn't shoot very well, only going 6/16 but he nearly got a triple double with 13 points, 15 assists and 9 rebounds. He had four turnovers but a couple came at the end of the game when it was already decided. He seemed to have problems slipping in the floor, perhaps it was some issue with his shoes. In one sequence he cut across the lane on a fast break only to slip but as he was falling he flipped a pass to Landon Milbourne cutting on the baseline for a thunderous two handed dunk. When Vasquez plays like this Maryland will be tough for any team to beat. He is so versatile that he can score 25 points one night and then go out and dish 10 assists the next. Very few players in the ACC can do that and he is only a sophomore.
Eric Hayes also had a nice night. With Gist and Vasquez playing Batman and Robin he quietly had 14 points on a very efficient 5 field goal attempts. His 3-point shooting is getting deadly sitting at 48.1% in ACC games. He has had several clutch 3-point baskets in recent games when teams started keying on Vasquez. He played good defense on Javier Gonzalez and did a great job of doubling down on JJ Hickson in the 2nd half to give Bambale Osby help. Hickson only scored 6 points in the 2nd half.
Landon Milbourne got back to his scoring ways with 11 points and 3 rebounds after doing very little at Boston College. If he can provide that level of offense consistently then Maryland is a much more dangerous team. His play gets overshadowed by some other players but he is greatly improved from where he was a month ago. Even Gary Williams admitted in his post game comments that he probably didn't play Milbourne enough last season. He has added another dimension to Maryland's offense by shooting 57.8% from 3-point range in ACC play and is using his impressive athleticism with more effectiveness. He even got a break away steal that resulted in two foul shots. His defense is getting to be adequate. Milbourne is just starting to understand how good he can be.
Boom Osby really struggled in the 1st half. He had just two points and four rebounds while also turning the ball over twice. Hickson was getting too many good looks in the paint using a pivot move against the less agile Osby. But he turned things around in the 2nd half and finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks. His defensive presence shouldn't be undersold and their were a number of times he altered shots by Wolfpack players. With some help he was able to contain JJ Hickson, who is the best freshman post player in the ACC.
As with last game the bench didn't contribute much offense. Cliff Tucker had 5 points and that was it. Adrian Bowie and Braxton Dupree came in a provided some good minutes on the defensive end. Bowie looked like he was pressing a little on offense and made some mistakes as a result. I expect to see him play a large role at Duke.
The game really belonged to James Gist. He has proven all of the skeptics wrong, including me. Earlier in the season after the Ohio and American losses I wrote that he just didn't seem to have the determination to lead this team. In the last 6 weeks he has blown away all that talk. Before the 30 point, 9 rebounds tour de force last night Gist was 4th in the ACC in scoring, 4th in rebounding, 5th in field goal percentage and 2nd in blocked shots in league games. Barring some collapse Gist should clear some space on his mantle because he is going to be a 1st team All-ACC player. He scored from inside and outside, through double teams and from the foul line. In short he can do it all. Sidney Lowe tried playing him straight up with Ben McCauley but Gist just backed him down and elevated over him to score. There are no more fade away jump shots in Gist's offense and it is showing. He is much better if he is aggressive on offense. He has a combination of leaping ability and touch around the basket that is rare. It was great to see Gist's parents in the stands celebrating the best game in his college career.
This group has continued to show an impressive toughness and great poise. They rallied after an emotional halftime scene in the locker room in which players spoke up about how important it was to win the game against NC State. Their ability to win on the road speaks volumes about their maturity. Those wins would not have been possible in December. The trio of starting sophomores are really starting to play at a high level and their two senior frontcourt players in Osby and Gist have been dominating the last month. I'm not sure how far this team is going to take Maryland fans but I'm pretty sure they will be part of March Madness. A win in the next game would all but assure the Terps will be dancing in March.
Bring it on.