Maryland in the aftermath

Maryland in the aftermath
March 12, 2011, 7:20 pm
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Saturday March 12, 2011, 2:16 p.m.

By Chris Knoche

The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament ended last night for the Maryland Terrapins with an 87-71 loss to the Duke Blue Devils in a game that served as a painful microcosm to a season filled with both promise and frustration.

As they had in most of their 13 previous losses, Maryland played some flawless minutes of basketball. The problem is that the NCAA makes these games last for 40 minutes and the Terps played their hearts out for only about 32 of those. In those minutes they were every bit the equal of the number 5 ranked Dookies in a game where nobody had given them a chance of winning.

Ultimately the same two issues that had plagued them in early season losses to good teams that they had a chance of beating (Pitt, Temple, the first Boston College game) came back to haunt them in horrific fashion. The first was a recurrence of problems at the free throw line that harkened back to their pre-Christmas debacles. In a first half where they had shot a sterling 52 from the filed (15-29) they shot a woeful 0-6 from the foul line with sophomore star Jordan Williams accounting for 5 of those misses. Instead of being in terrific shape at the halftime buzzer, they instead found themselves down 42-33 to a team that does not give up leads easily.

Even with that, a very game Maryland team emerged from the locker room for the second half and they went right at Duke on both ends. A 13-5 run over the first 5:25 of the second half trimmed the Duke lead to 47-46 and the Terps had major momentum. The teams traded baskets for the next four minutes until a Dino Gregory layup made the score 63-60 with just over ten minutes remaining.

It was at that point where the second issue referenced above came into play and ruined an excellent physical effort by Maryland. After Gregorys layup at the 10:15 mark, the Terps went the next six minutes without a field goal. Ultimately it was freshman PeShon Howard who finally scored but by that time his bucket had narrowed the gap to 74-63 and the Terps were effectively done. That drought was virtually identical the ones that Duke had in their first two games in the regular season against Duke and very similar to the ones that they had endured in a number of their toughest losses. In this case whether it was due to fatigue from having played the night before or momentary lapses of judgment by two freshman guards or to the sporadic play of upperclassmen, the job just did not get done with the game on the line. In that six minute stretch Maryland missed eight consecutive shots and went 1-4 from the foul line. In that same stretch Duke scored only 9 points on their end but they were enough to end the Terrapin hopes for an upset.

The loss dropped the Terps to 19-14 overall and most certainly relegates them to playing in the NIT after back to back NCAA tournament appearances. While the final score was not reflective at all of the fight that Maryland had put up in this game it mattered little when the final buzzer sounded.

Dukes senior swingman Kyle Singler continued his torrid play against the Terps this season. For the night he shot 10-15 from the field and a perfect 9-9 from the foul line on his way to 29 points. He also grabbed 9 rebounds. He got very little help from ACC Player of the Year Nolan Smith. Smith seemed strangely passive for most of the game and had an atrocious first half where he shot 0-4 from the field and had an uncharacteristic 4 turnovers. He seemed to pick it up just a bit in the second half and had two field goals before leaving with a lower leg injury with 6:49 left to play in the game. Given his struggles, Duke actually picked things up when he left and guard Seth Curry moved to the point position. Curry controlled the pace of the game in the last few minutes and his ball handling kept Maryland guards at bay. He scored 9 of his 11 points in the last 5:41 of the game and was a perfect 5-5 from the foul line.

On the Maryland side of things, Williams authored his 25th double-double of the season and had his way inside against Duke. He finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Even with that, one was left to wonder what that stat line might have looked like had he shot free throws well in the game. He finished 2-10 and the team 15-28. He also logged 38 minutes against a huge Duke front line and added a couple of assists and blocks as well. Reserve guard Cliff Tucker had his best game in weeks and finished with 12 points and 3 assists and both Howard and Gregory chipped in 10 points each.

The fact that they will not be in the NCAAs field of 68 is no doubt disappointing to a program where the bar and expectations are set so high. For stretches of the season this team was tantalizingly close to beating some of the best teams in the country. As their Head Coach Gary Williams would be quick to tell anyone, close does not get it done in the world of college basketball.

If there is any silver lining at all (and it is a very small one), the younger players in the Maryland program and that includes Williams in addition to the freshmen- will benefit by any of the additional practices and games the team will get with participation in the NIT.

Its not the perfect scenario. Its just reality. Whatever you are dealt as a team or a program you have to strive every day to make the most of it.