Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Terps hold the line

Maryland's win over Clemson on Saturday was just the kind of game that Gary Williams must have dreaded seeing in ACC play, a close game that would require the Terps to make free throws down the stretch. The poor free throw shooting by Maryland has been well chronicled this season but this team had not been in a position where they had to make free throws clinging to a slim lead since the Boston College loss in December. In that game Cliff Tucker and Terrell Stoglin missed three free throws in a row that probably doomed the Terrapins but Boston College had not fouled intentionally in that game. The Tigers placed Maryland on the line in the closing minutes and the players responded (mostly). Leading by three points with under two minutes left Jordan Williams hit both his free throws and Maryland connected on 9 of the next 10 free throws to stay ahead of a hot shooting Clemson clause. Jordan Williams, Adrian Bowie, Sean Mosley and Terrell Stoglin all made critical free throws in the final two minutes to preserve the win for a desperate Maryland team. A loss to Clemson would have probably put Maryland's postseason hopes on life support. While the win doesn't get Maryland far along in its campaign to make the NCAA Tournament it does help.

Clemson is a good team and Brad Brownell will keep the Tigers competitive in the years to come. Incidentally the last time Brownell coached against Maryland was when he was at UNC Wilmington. You may remember the 2003 NCAA Tournament game in which Drew Nicholas buried a 3-point shot as time expired and Maryland escaped with a 75-73 win in one of the most memorable NCAA Tournament finishes in history.

Clemson doesn't have much of a bench and with Tanner Smith missing this game after injuring his knee against North Carolina Brownell didn't have many rabbits to pull out of hat. Lucky for him he has two pretty damn good players in PG Demontez Stitt and PF Jerai Grant. Stitt was the best guard on the floor as he controlled the game for Clemson with 20 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. It is too bad Maryland doesn't have a senior guard the quality of Stitt to go along with Jordan Williams. Jerai Grant isn't a bad compliment to Stitt and is probably the best big man in the ACC that no one is talking about. He exposed some more of the problems Maryland has with its interior defense as he struggled with foul trouble but still managed to score 15 points on 6/8 shooting and grab 8 rebounds. Unfortunately for Clemson the rest of the front court would rather shoot jump shots than play in the lane. Along with 3-point specialist Andre Young those two kept Clemson in the game until the end.

At several points in the 2nd half Maryland looked like it might pull away. Maryland lead by 8 points with 17 minutes left in the game, again by 8 with 12 minutes left and then 7 points with 7 minutes left but in each case let Clemson get within one possession of the lead. Even though Maryland lead almost the entire game it never felt like they were in control and that Clemson was only a spurt away from taking the lead. This group of players still don't seem to know how to close out games but let's hope this win will get them going in the right direction.

Super sophomore Jordan Williams set the Maryland record for consecutive double-doubles with 13 scoring 16 points and snatching 11 rebounds. He rebounded from a poor showing against Virginia Tech well but still struggled from the foul line (4/9) and his defense was porous. Adrian Bowie had his fourth consecutive double digit scoring game with 13 points on a very efficient six field goal attempts. He hit 7/9 free throws and four rebounds to go with 5 assists and probably had the best floor game for the Terps.

Hawk Palsson started his first game in place of Sean Mosley but it was largely symbolic as Mosley played 20 minutes. Palsson showed his range with a 3-point shot and Mosley had a nice game with 9 points in 20 minutes. Perhaps Mosley can be more productive if he plays fewer minutes since he had 9 points in 20 minutes against Clemson. Sometimes a player can focus more on the time they are in the game when they spend a little more time on the bench.

Pe'Shon Howard, James Padgett and Berend Weijs had a few minutes as reserves but didn't do much to influence the outcome. Padgett struggled a little on the defensive end, though no post player really distinguished themselves, and that probably accounted for his limited play coming off an 8 point effort against Virginia Tech. Dino Gregory had a good game for him and made several key baskets down the stretch but his poor defensive rebounding continues to be a problem for Maryland. In 30 minutes he only grabbed 2 defensive rebounds and Jordan Williams needs more help than that.

It seems clear that Cliff Tucker is better suited coming off the bench where his streaky play won't put Maryland in the hole early as happened against Virginia Tech. Terrell Stoglin struggled with a few too many turnovers but if he has found his shooting touch again (3/5 from 3-point range) then Maryland can live with that.

This week Maryland travels to Virginia to take on a scrappy Wahoo squad that has talent at the guard position and can do damage from beyond the arc. Mustapha Farrakhan has been an impressive performer in his senior season hitting near 40% of his 3-point attempts and over 80% of his free throws. Joe Harris and K.T. Harrell have both made good contributions as freshmen and with Sammy Zeglinski back from injury Virginia can score. The pack line defense that Tony Bennett likes to run will make things more difficult for Maryland's guards to get the ball to Jordan Williams. It will require players like Cliff Tucker and Terrell Stoglin to knock down some outside shots because the pack line defense will give up some outside shooting in the attempt to clog the lane and prevent dribble penetrations. With a bunch of new players Virginia has struggled in ACC play with their defense at times but has defended the 3-point line fairly well the last four contests. The Cavaliers put forth good efforts against UNC and Boston College, both games they could have won, and were competitive against Duke until the Blue Devils pulled away in the 2nd half at Cameron. This is not a team Maryland should take lightly. If Virginia gets hot from outside and can dictate tempo then the Terrapins could be in trouble.

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