Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Magic eludes Terps

While there were certainly flaws in the Terrapin's game last night I think it is impossible to criticize their effort. I think the intensity was there for the whole game but Wake Forest won a nip and tuck game because overall they have the more talented players. At some level Gary Williams feels like talent can be trumped by hustle and execution and that was almost born out last night as it was in the North Carolina win. With a squad that is lacking in talent and physical ability the margin of error becomes very thin indeed and last night a few mistakes here or there cost Maryland a game that they had in their grasp. In six games against the top of the league (UNC, Duke, Wake Forest and Clemson) Maryland is 1-5 this season which indicates that guts and hustle will only rarely best dramatically superior talent. You could very well say that Gary Williams the recruiter has badly let down Gary Williams the coach. Getting this roster in position to earn an NCAA Tournament bid is only slightly less impressive than turning water into wine. This is the frustrating duality of Gary Williams these days. He has few peers when it comes to preparing his team to play but handicaps himself with poor recruiting decisions. To be fair it seems he may have turned that around, especially if he is able to pull off a coup and sign Lance Stephenson, but the damage of some lean recruiting seasons was evident last night.

Dave Neal had a night to remember in his last ACC game at Comcast Center. His 3-point shooting pushed Maryland back into the lead after Wake Forest erased a seven point halftime deficit in just under 5 minutes to start the 2nd half. He scored a career high 19 points, three on a inconsequential last second heave in the closing seconds, and grabbed six rebounds. It baffles me when people talk of Neal being a "post player" because he is nothing of the sort. He is a jump shooter who scores most of his points outside the lane. Neal battles like a bulldog but his limitations eventually cost him and he could do little to stop Wake's overwhelming rebound advantage. To be fair none of his teammates did much to stop Aminu and Johnson from grabbing 12 offensive rebounds between the two of them. It was fitting that two critical plays at the end of the game highlighted the shortcomings of Neal. With just under five minutes left in the game and Wake clinging to a one point lead Jeff Teague (6-2) drove the baseline and dunked over Neal (6-6) to put his team up by three. Then with under a minute left and Maryland trailing by three Neal drove the lane against James Johnson and though he had beat Johnson to the basket was blocked from behind. There was little Neal could do in either case, he was just outclassed by a superior athlete.

Greivis Vasquez couldn't summon any heroics in this game as Wake Forest had to abandon the foolish plan of trying to guard him with L.D. Williams and switch to a 1-3-1 zone to limit his dribble penetrations in the 2nd half. It worked fairly well at times and Vasquez couldn't get his shot to fall going 2/11 in the closing frame. Still there were opportunities for other players to his some open shots when Vasquez was drawing two and three Wake defenders. Eric Hayes missed three open 3-point shots in the last few minutes that could have won the game for Maryland. Dino Gaudio took a gamble that Maryland's outside shooting would cool down and he ended up getting lucky. The shots were there for the Terps, they just couldn't convert. It was essential that some other player besides Vasquez and Neal step up in the last 10 minutes but none did. Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne couldn't produce points when Maryland needed them. I think it would have been better to see Cliff Tucker play a little more towards the end because it was clear that Hayes was having an off shooting night but with Tucker's inconsistency it is hard to claim that would have made a difference. Vasquez and Neal had more field goals between the two of them (14) than the rest of the team combined (13).

Landon Milbourne has been fading badly in the last few weeks and was a non-factor in this game and the N.C. State game. He has only scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in forty nine minutes of play the last two games. The junior forward is too talented to have that kind of paltry production. He had 17 points and 5 rebounds against Virginia in the last game so let's hope he shakes off this terrible funk he is in.

Eric Hayes struggled with his shooting all night and in the closing minutes of the game missed at least a couple of shots he needed to hit and made an ill advised dribble to the basket that resulted in a blocked shot. As I mentioned earlier I would have liked to see Tucker play a little more in the 2nd half, especially when Wake went to their zone defense, but then again the only shot Tucker made was on a breakaway dunk.

Dino Gregory may also be a hustle player like Neal but his rebounding and defense has been getting worse for a number of weeks now. Three rebounds and two points in 21 minutes? He will never give much on offense but he needed to give a better effort inside on the defensive end of the floor.

Braxton Dupree surprised everyone and gave a few credible minutes in the 1st half. Jerome Burney is likely done for the rest of the season, and possibly his Maryland career, after aggravating his foot injury again. His size may have helped in the Wake Forest game.

Sean Mosley is really struggling on offense. His defense and hustle are always at a good level but he is really struggling to put the ball in the basket. Mosley has also struggled to do much off the dribble lately. At one point Gary Williams was switching him out on offense and substituting him in on defense. He is still one of the better rebounders on the team.

The rebounding advantage that Wake Forest enjoyed and their ability to get to the free throw line (related to all the offensive rebounds as you often draw fouls on put backs) was probably the difference in the game. Wake didn't play all that well but all those extra rebounds gave them the margin they needed to beat Maryland even though the Terps out worked them. Maryland was the tougher and more scrappy team but they couldn't make those critical baskets when they had the chances. Only getting to the free throw line once all game didn't help matters. It was worth noting our old friend Jamie Luckie was officiating this game and he didn't go unnoticed. In case you forgot he was the ref who called a technical foul on Vasquez last year in the Boston College game, fouling him out. This time Luckie called a phantom trip on Vasquez when Jeff Teague just tripped and fell on his face. It was a terrible call and probably cost Maryland a fast break opportunity as Teague had turned the ball over.

Now it is on to Virginia where they will face a crumbling Virginia squad that is 2-5 in ACC play at home this year. Super frosh Sylven Landesberg seems to have hit the freshman wall and is struggling with the increased attention he is getting on defense. The scary thing about Virginia is you don't know who will show up that night. Calvin Baker has picked up the main slack for Landesberg but Maryland nemesis Mamadi Diane has risen from the dead the last few games to score in double digits and it will be his senior night. On the inside Jamil Tucker and Mike Scott are mercurial players as well so Maryland will have to have another strong defensive performance like they have the last few games. Overall I think it is a game that Maryland should win going away but it isn't clear how this group will respond to the pressure of being in the NCAA bubble. Last season's squad crumbled under the weight but this season's group appears to be a more gritty bunch.


terpsfan said...

Last year, this team lost the last game of the year on the road to UVA, after blowing a very large lead at home to Clemson. However, last year, the UVA game included Sean Singletary's last game at home, and the collapse to Clemson was much larger and more devastating than the loss to Wake this year. Here's hoping the team can get over the hump this year.

Esquire said...

I think this squad is more angry/motivated at the Wake loss and not deflated like last season after the Clemson debacle. There is also much better leadership this season as compared to last year and I would be surprised if the intensity was lacking against the Wahoos.