Monday, March 01, 2010

Win worth the wait

An out of control beer truck would seem to make more sense in the plot of a Bill Murray movie than the prologue to a Maryland basketball game but when said truck crashed into a fire hydrant on Virginia Tech’s campus it started a wild evening that ended in a satisfying 104-100 double overtime win. The game was scheduled to tip off at 4pm but didn’t end until almost 10 o’clock at night after 50 minutes of play. Maryland fans were sent scrambling to find the game on television as it was bumped from the local affiliate originally scheduled to air the game. The game was the highest scoring ACC game since the the Wake Forest versus North Carolina triple overtime classic that the Deacons won 119-114. It wasn’t nearly as pretty as that game and there were multiple opportunities for Maryland to end the game at the end of each period but the experience, skill and mental toughness of this group prevailed.

 

Greivis Vasquez seems to be acutely aware that he is playing his final handful of ACC games. The senior was one of only three Maryland players to score more than 40 points against an ACC foe joining Ernie Graham who scored 44 against N.C. State and Len Bias who scored 41 against Duke. Joe Smith and Gene Shue also scored 40 points against an ACC opponent. It was his career high in points and while he didn’t shoot a high percentage and took 33 field goal attempts he made the big shots when it counted. After going 2/10 in the first half Vasquez shot 48% in the 2nd half and overtime periods and was 5/10 from 3-point range. Three of his five 3-point baskets gave Maryland the lead when he hit them: 53-52 with 14 minutes to go, 78-77 with 1:29 left in regulation and 87-84 with 2:43 left in the 1st overtime. His virtuoso triple-double against North Carolina last season is still the best game he ever played as a Terrapin but this 41 point, 7 rebounds and 6 assist effort on Saturday takes a rightful second place in Vasquez lore. It was all the more amazing that Vasquez played 48 minutes of the game and had the ball in his hands for almost every possession down the stretch yet he only had two turnovers the whole game against a team that aggressively tries for steals. Vasquez was clearly the best player on the court and proved that he deserves ACC player of the year, at least to everyone outside North Carolina. During the game Vasquez also passed Adrian Branch to become the 3rd all time scorer in Maryland history, he currently has 2,069 points and trails the great Len Bias by 80 points.

 

Vasquez got just enough help from his teammates to win with Eric Hayes getting the second double-double of his career scoring 12 points and adding 10 assists. Hayes almost scored the game winning shot at the end of regulation but his foot was on the 3-point line. He then drained 5 free throws in overtime but missed his sixth to give the Hokies a chance to win the game. Thankfully Erick Green missed a 3-point shot in the closing seconds to give Maryland the win. Sean Mosley had a surprisingly poor defensive effort and it nearly cost Maryland the game when he left Terrell Bell open for a 3-point basket with less than a minute left in the 1st overtime. He made amends by scoring six points, grabbing two big defensive rebounds and getting a steal in the two overtime periods. He has exploded out of his offensive slump with 37 points in 12/16 shooting in his last two games. After Landon Milbourne fouled out Mosley even took turns guarding Jeff Allen. Mirroring his team Mosley didn’t always look pretty but he got the job done.

It is a good thing Mosley has emerged because Landon Milbourne continues his late season slide. With 8 points on Saturday the senior forward has only scored in double figures once in the last six games. His points per game average has dropped from 14.5 after the UNC game to 12.9 which this late in the season is a dramatic decline. Milbourne has been struggling in all aspects of his game and has been dominated on defense as well. Gary Williams put Milbourne in the game to inbound the ball with 21 seconds left and Maryland sitting on a three point lead. It turned into one of Williams’ worst decisions of the day as Milbourne carelessly threw the ball in bounds to Dino Gregory and had the ball easily stolen by Terrell Bell. A few seconds later after a Seth Greenberg timeout J.T. Thompson nailed a 3-point basket to send the game into the 1st overtime. It was a horrendous mistake by a senior with Milbourne’s experience. The improved play of Dino Gregory has helped to limit the damage from Milbourne’s decline but Gregory isn’t much of an offensive threat and freshman James Padgett doesn’t have Gary Williams’ confidence in a close game. The other forward slot will be interesting to watch in the next few weeks as Maryland gears up for the postseason.

Jordan Williams struggled with his shooting, 31% from the floor and turnovers but grabbed 15 rebounds (7 offensive) and largely helped keep Maryland from getting destroyed on the glass. The Hokies are not a great rebounding team and their +9 advantage for the game and 20 offensive rebounds is further reason for Maryland fans to be be concerned about a potentially fatal weakness for this team. Maryland’s guards will be able to hold their own against most teams in the NCAA Tournament but they may get beaten by a lesser squad if they continue to struggle to guard their own glass.

In games like this one Gary tends to get a little tunnel vision and not use his bench much. Foul trouble made him play Gregory for 32 minutes but Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie only combined to play 21 minutes in a two overtime game. The duo had decent contributions with 9 points on 4/7 shooting. Bowie and Tucker will need to be a factor against Duke if Maryland is going to win.

Maryland defense struggled in the game but wasn’t terrible unless you factor in the defensive rebounding. Nine of Virginia Tech’s 37 field goals were a result of offensive rebounds and the Terps would have probably enjoyed a halftime lead if they had prevented the Hokies from getting so many easy put backs in the 1st half. The offensive rebounds were a major factor that helped Virginia Tech stay in the game. Virginia Tech missed four of their six free throws in the 2nd overtime including two by Malcolm Delaney who shots close to 85% from the free throw line. Perhaps the Hokies were gassed at that point, Delaney had played all 50 minutes, but Maryland made 9/10 free throws in the last overtime to take the game.

While Maryland’s defense was weaker than normal the offense scored 51 points in the 2nd half and shot 7/15 from the 3-point line and 18/22 from the foul line. The continue to share the ball as well as any team in the ACC with 23 assists and only 11 turnovers for the game. Another important factor was that the Terps had 10 steals, only the third time they have had double digit steals in ACC play and oddly all those games have come on the road: at Boston College, Clemson and Virginia Tech.

The thrilling win gave Maryland 11 wins in league play for the first time since 2003 when Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas lead Maryland to the Sweet 16 as a six seed. Duke travels to Maryland on Wednesday for a game that will likely decide the regular season champion in the ACC. I’m not sure anyone except the most delusional Maryland fanatics thought that this team would be heading into the last week of the regular season with a chance to win the ACC and an NCAA Tournament bid locked up after losing to William & Mary in December. What a turnaround. The Terps have a decent shot to sweep the coach and player of the year awards depending on the next two games. It is a farce that Gary Williams has only won coach of the year once in his time at Maryland. The win over Virginia Tech gave Williams his 200th career ACC win and he joins Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski as the only coaches in league history with at least 200 conference wins. At worst Maryland will be the 2 seed in the ACC tournament and is assured a first round bye for the first time since the ACC went to the 12 team tournament format.

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