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.
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