Monday, February 23, 2009

Terp stun Heels, again

There were signs in Maryland's 108-91 loss at North Carolina that the Terps would have some success on offense against the Tar Heels. The indifferent defense of UNC allowed Maryland's struggling offense to get clicking and the once-in-a-season 3-point shooting by Carolina couldn't possibly be replicated by Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson again. Neither of those things would make you confident that Maryland would be able to pull an upset of a Carolina team that won ten games in a row without some other unusual factor in Maryland's favor. It turned out there were two in Maryland's win: Greivis Vasquez's sublime 35 point, 11 rebound and 10 assist effort and Maryland's bench outscoring Carolina's 41-5. Without each the Terps probably could not have pulled off the upset.

Vasquez by his own admission had struggled badly in the month of January and starting with the Morgan State loss it was clear how terribly the team struggles when its leader and best player isn't on top of his game. For Maryland to make the NCAA Tournament, as absurd as that would sound a few weeks ago, Vasquez will have to carry this team on his back. He did it all including scoring Maryland's first 16 points of the game. He made all the clutch baskets, all of his last three field goals either tied the game or gave Maryland the lead. I thought his shot selection was very good and he made every clutch assists in the closing moments of the victory. His defense on UNC point guard Ty Lawson was very good even though Lawson scored 24 points on 20 field goal attempts. He added three blocks and two steals to go along with his gaudy point totals but I think he also got into Lawson's head in the 2nd half and forced Lawson into some selfish play that hurt UNC. It was a feat that had to be seen to be appreciated. The only player in Maryland's history to record a triple double in points, rebounds and assists (Derrick Lewis had his two triple doubles in points, rebounds and blocks) and the only player ever to record a triple double in ACC play. One of the great individual performances in Maryland basketball history. Vasquez said afterwards that he had talked to the coaching staff and made it clear he wanted to go back to playing point guard. This may spell a slightly decreased role for Adrian Bowie or Eric Hayes at the point guard spot. Vasquez did have seven turnovers and some sloppy play is expected with his style but as I've written many times before you cannot peel away his swashbuckling, and sometimes reckless, style and expect his production to increase. If anything he will regress.
A Tale of Two VasquezzesMorgan St to Miami at home@UNC to UNC at home
Points Per Game13.118.0
Field Goal %28.947.8
3-point %18.744.8

The 41-5 scoring comparison between Maryland and Carolina's bench was mostly due to Cliff Tucker and Eric Hayes. Tucker had his most complete game of the season as he not only scored a career high 22 points but played excellent defense against UNC shooting guard Wayne Ellington. Tucker's 3-point shooting helped Maryland get back into the game and his six rebounds made it a complete effort. Tucker's consistency with his floor game was his real problem and why he wasn't playing more but he showed another level of maturation with this prime time performance.

Eric Hayes bounced back from a wretched game at Clemson to score 17 points and his some critical 2nd half 3-point shots. He had several nice floaters in the lane too including a basket to get Maryland within two points at 76-74 with about a minute left.

Dino Gregory and Jerome Burney had a bigger contribution than their stat lines would indicate. The two combined for only four rebounds but had four blocks and limited the effectiveness of North Carolina's front line with some physical play. Burney is really coming along after missing most of the ACC season with his foot injury. He won't offer much on offense but his physical presence in the post is something that was missing in the first part of the season with Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne playing most of the minutes. The blocks by Gregory and Burney made the forwards for UNC think twice about going inside. Forward Deon Thompson only scored two points in the entire 2nd half after scoring 11 in the first for UNC and freshmen Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller were mostly irrelevant in the 2nd half.

Sean Mosley struggled to score and spent some time on the bench with foul trouble and the hot play of Cliff Tucker but he had several big plays that helped Maryland win. He took two charges, including a critical fifth foul on Danny Green in overtime, and grabbed two critical rebounds at the end of regulation and in overtime. He even was in the low block on a critical foul shot by North Carolina in overtime. That gives you an idea of how much confidence Gary Williams has in the freshman.

North Carolina dominated Maryland on the boards and pulled down an incredible 25 offensive rebounds. The guards for Maryland pulled down 25 rebounds while the forwards only hauled in 13. The defense in the 2nd half was fantastic although it helped that Ty Lawson got caught trying to show that he is a better player than Vasquez. When Vasquez is scoring he makes his teammates better as well but Lawson doesn't tend to do that. Lawson scored his points in the 2nd half but didn't get his team involved in the offense and there was precious little movement off the ball by Carolina. This game was a perfect example of the premise that a team can dominate inside but still be beat by a team that gets hot from the outside. Maryland's 13 3-point baskets negated UNC's inside advantage and though Tyler Hansbrough wasn't much of a factor the superior interior game of North Carolina could not make up for the Terps perimeter barrage. That is the power of the 3-point shot in college basketball. 

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