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Terps 'couldn't get over the top' in Maui

LAHAINA, Hawaii — Even though his team’s flight home did not depart for more than 24 hours, Maryland Coach Gary Williams was in a rush to leave the Lahaina Civic Center on Wednesday afternoon. Williams had just watched his team lose the third-place game of the Maui Invitational to Wisconsin — the Terrapins’ second loss in as many days — and wanted to get his postgame press conference over with as quickly as possible. He requested to go first, but was told by tournament officials that he had to wait.

So Williams lingered outside while Badgers Coach Bo Ryan addressed reporters. He did not have to bide much time, though. According to a tournament official, Maryland requested that Wisconsin’s press conference be expedited, and indeed, Ryan and two Badgers players were ushered in and out in hurry.

But the pause did allow Williams a brief moment to reflect on the previous three days, a time during which Maryland’s strengths and weaknesses were exposed in front of a national television audience. Through six games, the Terrapins (4-2) have proven they can be many things — crafty, practical and resilient, but also sluggish, undisciplined and distracted. As for what they will become, Williams is eager to figure that part out.

“We’ve managed to get down the last two games in the first half and battled back to a situation where it was winnable, but we couldn’t get over the top,” Williams said during his opening remarks once he ascended the dais.

Maryland held a 7-0 lead when Wisconsin guard Trevon Hughes made a three-pointer 261/27 minutes into the game. Senior forward Landon Milbourne sank a jumper to push the Terrapins’ lead up to six before the Badgers embarked on a 13-0 run. Williams called that span “a critical juncture,” detailing in specific a sequence in which “we just didn’t get back in time to turn around, so we got kind of a bumping foul on a layup for a three-point play.”

As Williams pointed out after each loss, Dec. 12 is an important date for a Maryland squad currently lacking in front-court depth. On that day, junior forward Dino Gregory will return from the suspension that will have kept him out of the team’s first eight games.

Until then, Maryland must navigate two more games with a limited supply of capable forwards against major-conference opponents, and continued foul trouble — especially among the players the Terrapins rely upon to rebound — will prove problematic.

Milbourne was plagued by early fouls on Monday and Tuesday, which essentially negated his effectiveness for the remainder of those contests. Freshman forward Jordan Williams picked up quick fouls Tuesday and Wednesday, and sophomore guard Sean Mosley — a critical rebounder for Maryland thus far at the swingman position — found himself in foul trouble Wednesday against Wisconsin as well.

“Sean has played great for us at the start of the year, and we want him on the court as much as possible,” Gary Williams said. “Like Landon [Tuesday] night, it bothers you a little bit, but you have to be able to overcome that. You can’t use that as an excuse and you can’t let the players use that as an excuse. You’ve got to play. Fouls are part of the game. Part of being a good defensive team is not fouling, and we put them on the line some. We have to learn how to play aggressive defense without fouling.”

Maryland trailed midway through the first half of all three games it played this week — including against Division II Chaminade in the opening round — and foul trouble provides only part of the explanation.

On Tuesday, the Terrapins struggled to establish a post presence against Yancy Gates and the rest of Cincinnati’s physically imposing front court. On Wednesday, Maryland used its guards to double-team Wisconsin’s big men, but that left the Badgers open looks along the perimeter. Wisconsin made 7 of 12 three-point attempts in the first half against the Terrapins.

In each game, Maryland entered the second half reinvigorated. Against Chaminade, that translated into the blowout many observers expected. Against Cincinnati and Wisconsin, that translated into an encouraging finish to a losing effort.

“I thought in the second half we played, you know, hard again and all that, but you’ve got to play 40 minutes, and hopefully we’ll get that coming out of here, the importance of playing your best basketball early on in the game to establish yourselves,” Williams said. “You can’t come from behind all the time against good teams. It’s just not going to happen, because there’s a reason they’re good.”

Maryland, too, has show flashes of promise. Mosley and senior guard Eric Hayes have gotten off to promising offensive starts. Senior guard Greivis Vasquez has begun to break out of the scoring slump that beleaguered him at the season’s outset, though his game still does not appear to be completely in sync. Jordan Williams and fellow freshman forward James Padgett have adapted reasonably well to the increased playing time they’ve received in Gregory’s absence.

Remaining opportunities for Maryland to earn a quality nonconference win are in short supply. One could argue that a victory at Indiana on Tuesday would count because of the Hoosiers’ Big Ten affiliation, but in actuality, the Terrapins’ performance in Maui has rendered its matchup against Villanova on Dec. 6 in the BB&T Classic a critical affair in regards to its postseason résumé.

With that in mind, Gary Williams was asked what he learned about his team this week.

“That we won’t quit and that we have to run better half-court offense,” he said. “We did a good job in the second half with our half-court offense. The encouraging thing to me is we ran our best offense over here in the second half of these games. You know, we scored 42 points against a very good defensive team, and that is a good sign for us. Hopefully we’re on our way out of this thing, but you know, you have these two games early and hopefully you learn from them.”

One more question followed, and then the coach of a team expected to return to the NCAA tournament for a second straight season was off. To where, though, was unclear.

By Matt Bonesteel  |  November 26, 2009; 11:14 AM ET
Categories:  Men's basketball  
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Comments

We've learned over the years that Terps' early season performances are variable and generally unpredictive of season outcomes. Let's hope that's the case this year. For now, our lads seemed outhustled and overmatched.

Posted by: AncientTerp | November 26, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Gary must go

Posted by: fushezzi | November 27, 2009 7:33 AM | Report abuse

GW isn't going anywhere. The Athletic Department won't eat his contract and even if it could, the school is comfortable as a second tier program. Let's face it, soccer is much more important...and don't we have a great Cheerleading Team?

Get used to being frustrated.

Consider drinking the Koolaid.

Mediocrity rules!!!!

Posted by: petecard | November 27, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Petecard,

Please give us your definition of mediocrity.

I'd be very interested to see if this team fits your definition of mediocirty by the end of the year.

By the way, I am surprised that you reserve your criticisms for B-ball and Gary Williams since the football team is much more deserving of said criticisms. I assume that you simply do not care or follow Terps football.

I think you'll agree that D Yow should be fired for giving Fridge his ridiculous contract and James Franklin his ridiculous contract. I know we agree on one thing: D Yow is a less than stellar AD.

Posted by: larry31 | November 27, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Larry,

"Mediocrity" means not doing what is necessary to make the BB program an elite program. It means defining a successful season by just making the NCAA tournament.

We made it last year by the skin of our teeth. It looks like that is where we are headed this year.

Being an "elite" program means making the tournanment almost every year (8-9 out of 10 years), making the regionals (winning two games)about half of the time and getting to the Elite Eight about 2-3 times in 10 years. After that, a team will make it's share of Final Fours and win an occasional championship.

Elite teams rarely worry about making the tournament and they expect to do well.

Maryland has all of the resources, the history and the fan support to be an elite program. But we accept mediocrity and we are content with a coach that does not measure up on the recruiting front. He has "tenure," awarded to him by the AD with the support of the school and many fans.

As for football, I root hard for the Terps, but we have many disadvantages in that sport that will always hinder our success. Few schools have elite programs in both sports. There may be years when both sports are great, but usually one sport is king.

My passion is for Maryland Basketball to be all that it can be...

I won't drink the Koolaid.

Posted by: petecard | November 28, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Being an "elite" program means making the tournanment almost every year (8-9 out of 10 years), making the regionals (winning two games)about half of the time and getting to the Elite Eight about 2-3 times in 10 years. After that, a team will make it's share of Final Fours and win an occasional championship.

Posted by: petecard | November 28, 2009 10:58 AM

Fact: Md has made 13 NCAA appearances in last 16 years

Fact: Md has made 7 Sweet 16 appearances in last 16 years

Fact: Md has made 2 Final Four appearances in last 8 years

Fact: MD has won National Championship in last 7 years.

By Petetard's own definitions, MD is already an elite program. The guy can't help himself folks, he just isn't very bright.


Posted by: Barno1 | November 30, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Barno,

You are so good at looking back and denying the current/last several years perfromance of the program.

If we ended the program right now you might be right....but take off your rose-colored glasses, put down the Koolaid and LOOK at where we are.

GW want to win but he doesn't want to do what is necessary to be/STAY on top. He is comfortable and won't lower himself to do the kind of recruiting that is necessary. And he isn't a very good recruiter even if he wanted to do the work.

I would refer you to schools like Kentucky. They insist on being at the elite level and they don't wait to take action when they see problems.

A good example of your view....Florida State football and Bobby Bowden. That is where we are headed with your approach.

You want us all to go down with the sinking ship.

Gulp!

Posted by: petecard | December 1, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

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