Postseason Evaluations: Eric Hayes
This week, Terrapins Insider is taking a look back at the Maryland season that concluded last weekend. Each day will feature posts on the performances of specific players and Coach Gary Williams.
The decision to move Sean Mosley into the starting lineup had just as deep an impact on the makeup of the Terrapins’ top reserves as it did on the first unit. With Mosley inserted in, junior guard Eric Hayes – who previously had started every game of the season – was taken out.
Hayes acknowledged that at first he was upset by the decision, and understandably so. But he soon adapted to and accepted the new task laid out for him. This was another trademark of this year’s Maryland squad – by the final stretch of the season, each player embraced the specific role the team needed him to fulfill in order to be successful, which of course was a considerable factor in the Terrapins actually being successful.
Dino Gregory was not on the court to score points. He was there to block shots, scrap for rebounds and help wear out opposing post players with his seemingly boundless energy. Dave Neal was not on the court to pull down 10 rebounds a night, nor was he there to be an imposing defensive force in the paint. He was there to stretch opposing defenses with his long-range shooting ability and craftily defend against taller and more athletic foes.
Likewise, Hayes was not on the court to be a lock-down defender, nor was he to be a consistent source of points throughout the game. Rather, he was there to catch teams off guard. He was to come off the bench, not draw a whole lot of attention and then strike in quick bursts. A handful of three-pointers in a row. A quick jaunt into the lane for a short jumper or layup. Hayes learned to be deceptive in his approach – to play the part of the innocent bystander until the moment was right – and his move to the bench enabled that skill to flourish.
Maryland Coach Gary Williams initially said he made the switch in part to give Hayes a different look. Hayes had struggled to find consistency with his shot all season. His shooting percentage was waning, as was his confidence. One of the top shooters on the team simply could not find his stroke. And so, during the week leading up to the Jan. 31 home game against Miami, Williams pulled Hayes aside and told him of the decision.
Released from the pressure to impact the game immediately, Hayes seemed to enter contests with a renewed poise. Williams later attributed part of Hayes’s success coming off the bench to him being a coach’s son who was adept at picking up subtle keys in the first few minutes of games, which would help him attack opposing defenses.
And although Mosley was starting, Hayes continued to log significant minutes (he averaged 29.3 minutes per game, second most on the team behind Greivis Vasquez). He was, as Williams noted, a “finisher” who always seemed to be on the court most of the second half and certainly in the closing minutes. In addition to proving to be a capable scorer, Hayes also took some of the ballhandling burden away from Vasquez and/or Adrian Bowie. Hayes’s decision-making at times was questionable; his turnover numbers sometimes were less than desirable. But those instances decreased in the latter stages of the season, around the time his scoring numbers surged.
Though he was never asked – and he never offered such commentary – it would seem natural for Hayes to want to be placed back in the starting lineup next season. But given how he thrived as the team's sixth man, would that be best? Hayes was a valuable asset for the Terrapins coming off the bench. He gave the reserves a reliable scoring presence and took some of the pressure off Cliff Tucker to fill that role.
What did you all think of Hayes’s season? How would you evaluate his performance? Do you think he should continue to come off the bench next season or do you think he should be given another opportunity to start? In which of those roles do you think Hayes best serves the team?
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