We've seen this before. Maryland plays well for periods against a ranked opponent only to fall at the end of the game through a series of missed opportunities, bricked free throws and poor rebounding. Such was the case again against Villanova on Saturday as the Terps choked a 12 point 2nd half lead away in the closing minutes to fall 71-64 against the Wild Cats. Leading 59-47 with about 9 minutes left Maryland went 1/8 from the floor for the next seven minutes. Upon reading that Villanova went on a 19-0 run you might conclude that Maryland's defense was the culprit but that wasn't true. The defense all game, including in the 2nd half, was pretty good. The Wild Cats shot worse in the 2nd half (41%) than in the 1st half (44%) but pounded Maryland on the glass in that half (23-14, including 10 offensive rebounds). When you are not scoring at all it makes your defense look worse than it really is and not scoring for almost 7 minutes against a team like Villanova is going to spell your doom. Turnovers didn't help Maryland much either. Though the number doesn't look terrible, 14 for the game, that accounted for 20% of Maryland's possessions which is pretty bad. The 8 turnovers in the 2nd half contributed to the inability of the offense to score as Maryland committed four turnovers during a 3 and a half minute stretch after Maryland got a double digit lead. After Cliff Tucker's turnover with 6:51 left in the game Maryland saw its lead disappear for the last time. Note that turnover by a senior came after Gary Williams had called a 30 second timeout. Few if any of the turnovers during that stretch had to do with 'Nova's switch to a 3/4 court press, they were all in the half court despite what the dummies on TV said.
During the painful seven minute stretch Jordan Williams took just two shots while Pe'Shon Howard, Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie were clanging 3-point attempts off the rim. Terrell Stoglin's gunslinging has been much dissected this season but it was Howard's poor decision making that did more damage in this loss. Collectively the guard play this season for the Terrapins has been the major weakness of this team. Seniors Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie have shown that they are little more than role players and backups forced into starting roles. In conference games Tucker is only shooting 39% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc. His inconsistency make him a highly unreliable player with a plethora of dud performances this season including against Penn State (0 points), Temple (2 points), Boston College (6 points), and Villanova (3 points). Adrian Bowie has hardly been much better though he is shooting a much better percentage on fewer field goal attempts. Though Bowie has kept his starting job he hardly offers much scoring ability only scoring in double figures twice against ACC or power conference foes all season. With freshman Terrell Stoglin in the midst of a wicked shooting slump there isn't much scoring to be had from the guard positions. When you play largely of three guard lineup with Sean Mosley that is a bad thing. While Mosley has done a decent job of producing his 8 point average against the better competition he hasn't been producing many points either. If Maryland is to make it into the NCAA tournament the guards will have to dramatically improve their play. As good as Jordan Williams has been and he is just destroying opponents the last few weeks, he cannot do it alone.
Perhaps Maryland would do better to switch to a more traditional two guard look and insert a forward, Dino Gregory or Hawk Palsson into the "three" position. It might improve the rebounding, an overlooked flaw in this squad, and end this three guard paralysis on offense.
Maryland now faces a two game home stand against Virginia Tech and Clemson that become must win games. With road tilts at Virginia and Georgia Tech on the horizon holding home serve and building a needed winning streak is imperative. Dropping a second home game so early in the season could be devastating to Maryland's postseason fortunes. Having let another choice win slip through their fingers this group has made their margin of error for the remainder of the season thin indeed. I have a feeling that this squad will look back on this Villanova game and rue those seven minutes that may have sunk their NCAA hopes.