Thursday, February 05, 2004

Gilchrist Carries Terps Past Virginia 71-67

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the network and syndicated to Yahoo

The Maryland Terrapins need a leader. Tonight, it was John Gilchrist accepting that mantle and carrying the Terps to a critical road victory at Virginia, 71-67.

John Gilchrist had been hearing some criticism of his play recently, but apparently none as harsh as his own. He told the Washington Times, "I felt like I was a disgrace to this university by letting the great teams of the past down. I felt like the ghost of this basketball program was haunting me in my sleep." His 26 points and 8 rebounds should chase the evil spirits away and certainly help Maryland fans sleep better.

The Terps (12-7, 3-5) won this game by doing two things well that have been problem areas at times this season, rebounding and defending the three-point shot. Maryland grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, helping offset their 35.8% shooting. Although Virginia (12-7, 2-6) did make 42.9% of their three-point attempts, their primary long-range threat, Todd Billet, only made one of four and scored but three points for the game. Chris McCray helped make up for his 0-5 shooting night by successfully shadowing Billet and denying him good looks at the basket.

The Cavaliers took a 12-5 lead and appeared to be in control of the game early on. They were giving the Terps fits with a pressing and trapping defense, and got several extra shots by pounding the offensive glass.

A three-pointer by Gilchrist ignited a 21-2 Maryland run that gave them a 26-14 lead. Another three, a conventional three-point play, and a driving layup gave Gilchrist 11 points in that burst. While he was preparing to shoot a free throw, I saw an intensity, perhaps even a righteous anger, in his eyes that seemed to say, “I'm not going to let us lose this game.” Starting in his home state for the first time, Gilchrist backed up that attitude with his play.

After calling three timeouts during the Terrapin run, Coach Pete Gillen's Virginia squad settled down and began working the ball inside to their big man, Elton Brown. After consistently scoring in double figures through the first half of the season, Brown's production had dropped off dramatically in ACC competition before his 24-point performance last Saturday at Wake Forest.
He picked up where he left off tonight, scoring 17 points in the first half.

Brown's scoring led the Cavaliers on a 13-1 run to draw within 31-29. Their defense was successful in getting the Terps' half-court offense out of sync, and their trapping caused Maryland players to twice call time outs to bail them out of trouble. The Terps called three time outs within 2:18 and were left with only one for the second half.

Gilchrist (21 points in the half) closed the first half with two free throws and a three that gave Maryland a 43-36 lead at halftime. As he had led them on the court, Gilchrist led his team into the locker room bounding and pumping his fist. Travis Garrison, regaining his spot in the starting lineup, played his most aggressive basketball of the season and pulled down nine rebounds in the first half.

Foul trouble quickly became an issue for Maryland in the second half. Garrison and Jamar Smith both headed to the bench with three fouls in the first 1:40 of the half, but Hassan Fofana came in and picked up some of the slack. Although he apparently spent too much time watching Smith shoot free throws (Fofana was 1-6 from the line), he hauled down 10 rebounds in only 20 minutes of playing time, easily his best performance of the season. Coach Williams said after the game, “I can't say enough about Hassan Fofana's progress.”

The Terps' halftime lead quickly dissipated with Brown and Derrick Byers leading Virginia on a 12-2 burst. Seeing his team now trailing 48-45, Maryland Coach Gary Williams burned his final timeout with 13:49 remaining in the game.

After tying the score three times, the Terps went on a decisive 8-0 run to take a 60-54 lead. Gilchrist had cooled off, but D. J. Strawberry, playing his best game in a while, picked up for him by following one of his misses, making 1-2 free throws, and coming up with a steal and taking it coast-to-coast for a three-point play.

Maryland's free throw shooting almost cost them down the stretch. The Terps converted only four of their final ten attempts from the line and left the door open for the Cavaliers. Virginia very nearly took advantage of this opportunity. A layup by Brown after spinning around Fofana and a three-pointer by Devin Smith cut Maryland's lead to 68-67.

After Nik Caner-Medley made only one of two free throws, the Cavaliers had the ball with a chance to take the last shot. D. J. Strawberry then made the most important play of the game, stealing the ball from Billet and taking it down the court on a breakaway. Strawberry missed the layup, but Gilchrist was there for the putback to ice the victory.

Afterwards, Gary Williams was not concerned about the artistic merits of his team's victory. “It wasn't pretty out there” Williams said, “That's the way we're going to have to play this season. Whatever it is, you've got to find a way to win.”

Gilchrist drew his coach's praise, “John did a great job of leadership as well as his scoring and rebounding. He would not allow us to lose this game tonight.”

Tonight, it was the opposing coach praising Maryland's play down the stretch, not the other way around. Virginia Coach Pete Gillen said, “I have to give Maryland credit, they made the big
plays when they had to.”

Despite a tough game with Florida State coming up on Sunday, Williams did not want to look ahead immediately, “We're just going to enjoy this. It's been a rough ride.”

The ACC schedule has indeed been a bumpy ride for these young Terrapins. With a 3-5 conference record after their first run through the league, Maryland could still reasonably finish anywhere from third to ninth. It will continue to be very interesting to watch as February plays out.

Notes From Under the Shell
Maryland now leads the all-time series with Virginia 96-64. The Terps have won 14 of the last 21 meetings. The Cavaliers swept Maryland last season.

Despite Gilchrist's performance tonight, the Maryland offense was, to put it politely, dysfunctional. Gilchrist had a strong stat line; 26 points, 9-21 shooting, 4-6 three-pointers, and 8 rebounds. However, he also had 9 turnovers. I counted at least three times when he threw a pass and the intended recipient was either cutting a different way or moving toward the hoop thinking Gilchrist would shoot. These mistakes should not be happening at this point of the season.

The Terps held a 49-38 edge in rebounding over a Virginia team that normally gets outrebounded anyway. Jamar Smith, who came in as the ACC's leading rebounder at 9.9 per game, pulled down only one tonight and fouled out in 17 minutes. Garrison finished with a career best 10 boards.

Maryland is not going to beat many teams left on their schedule by shooting 35.8% from the field (32.6% without Gilchrist), 5-16 from three-point range (1-10 without Gilchrist), and 18-36 from the free throw line (14-31 without Gilchrist). Caner-Medley was the second leading Maryland scorer with eight points. Elton Brown led Virginia with 24 points, and freshman guard J. R. Reynolds added 15.

Amazingly, Charlottesville's University Hall was over 1,000 short of a sellout tonight, drawing only 7,378 for their biggest conference rival. The only time Virginia has played in front of a full house this season was when Duke visited. The school is building a 15,000-seat arena across the street from U Hall that is scheduled to open for the 2006-07 season. They obviously have their work cut out trying to fill it.

The Terps are currently seventh in the ACC, but only one game out of third. Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Wake Forest currently share third with a 4-4 record. North Carolina could join them by beating Duke on Thursday, or create a tie for sixth with Maryland if they lose. Duke (7-0) and NC State (6-2) have separated themselves from the pack at this point.

Maryland's next game is on Sunday at 1PM when they host Florida State. The Seminoles (16-6, 4-4) are coming off an 81-65 win over Georgia Tech, a game in which they outscored the Yellow Jackets 48-30 in the second half. The game will be broadcast on the Raycom/Jefferson Pilot network.


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