Saturday, March 20, 2004

Terps' Run Comes To An End

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

Maryland's amazing run through the ACC Tournament and the first round of the NCAAs comes to an end, as the Terps fall to Syracuse 72-70 in second round action.

The final chapter in the story of the Maryland Terrapins’ 2003-04 basketball season was written in Denver tonight. It was a fascinating yarn that, like any good tale, featured drama, suspense, and strange plot twists. It also had an exciting finish, but did not contain a happy ending for the Terps. Another Maryland (20-12) comeback fell agonizingly short, and they fell to the defending national champion Syracuse Orangemen (23-7) 72-70 in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

In the short term, Terrapin coaches, players, and fans will doubtlessly be haunted by “what ifs”.

What if…..

Ekene Ibekwe and Jamar Smith had not both missed two free throws with less then three minutes to play.

The obvious foul committed on Chris McCray had been called instead of a traveling violation on McCray with Maryland trailing 69-64.

Travis Garrison had been able to hold onto the rebound of D. J. Strawberry’s first missed shot on the game’s final possession. He had an opening for an easy layup and/or being fouled.

Syracuse had not finished the first half on an 11-2 run.

Maryland had attacked the Orangemen’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense in the first half the way they did in the second half.

Would’ve, should’ve, could’ve. For the second year in a row, the Terps’ season ends with a missed shot following a spirited comeback. Like Maryland’s first round escape against UTEP was reminiscent of their 2001 first-round win over George Mason, so was tonight’s game, particularly the final few minutes, similar to the Terps’ Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State last year.

With only a few minutes remaining in both games, Maryland faced double-digit deficits and looked dead in the water. Like last season’s veteran team, this group of Terrapin youngsters dug deep and clawed their way back into a game they probably had no business winning, only to see their hopes bounce off the rim in the final second.

Last year, Steve Blake’s three-pointer fell just short and ended his Maryland career. This year, D. J. Strawberry had the courage to take the shot that the Terps needed to extend the season, and the hustle and athleticism to follow it and nearly force overtime with his desperation putback.

If you want to find one specific turning reason for Maryland’s loss, their 9:23 stretch in the first half without a hoop would be a good place to start. One could also make a strong case for the Terps’ 11 turnovers and 27% shooting before halftime being decisive.

Conversely, there was one clear factor that led to Maryland’s comeback in the second half—they attacked. The Terps regressed offensively in the first half, often resembling the squad that put the team on the NCAA bubble with their play from mid-January thru mid-February.

Maryland was apparently mystified by the Syracuse zone and settled for jumpers or shots forced up in traffic. McCray, who had regained confidence in his shot during the Terps’ recent run, was again hesitant to put up a shot. John Gilchrist, the main catalyst of Maryland’s surge, was unable to penetrate and spent most of the first half dribbling around the perimeter. Smith was again stymied by a big man who was bigger than him and who could hold his ground in the low post.

That recipe cooked up several losses for the Terps this year and helped Maryland dig a ten-point hole at halftime, 32-22. The Orangemen’s star forward Hakim Warick led all scorers with 13 points at the break. Syracuse center Craig Forth, averaging 5.7 points per game for the season, scored eight in the first half, all on layups.

The Orange eventually stretched their lead to 16 points. After playing so sluggishly before the break, Syracuse scored on six of their first seven possessions after halftime and made seven of their first ten shots. Warrick scored ten of the Orangemen’s first 22 points to lead the charge and put Syracuse firmly in control of the game.

One important thing had changed in the Terps’ favor, however. Maryland was finally penetrating the Orangemen’s zone and beginning a steady procession to the foul line. The Terps would wind up shooting an amazing 31 free throws in the second half compared to only seven in the first.

As we have seen time and time again during this season, no Maryland lead is secure and no deficit is insurmountable. The Terps’ inside pair of Smith and Garrison gradually took over the game and gave Maryland a chance to win. Maryland also hung onto the ball, committing only six turnovers in the second half while forcing eight.

The Terps outscored Syracuse 10-3 in the final 2:05 of the game. Foul trouble would decimate the Terps’ lineup, however, and severely limit their offensive options down the stretch. McCray, Gilchrist, and Ibekwe all fouled out, leaving Mike Jones and Strawberry to make plays on the final two possessions. Jones was fouled on a three-point attempt and made two of the three free throws. Strawberry was unable to find a shooter on the last play of the game and forced up two shots on his own.

Ultimately, the Terps’ poise and determination over the final 15 minutes of the game was not enough to overcome a dismal performance during the first 25 minutes. It did give everyone involved with the game from a Maryland perspective a lot to be proud of. This team NEVER, NEVER quit tonight or during the season, even when many of the fans were ready to quit on them. Coach Gary Williams never stopped believing in his players, which finally led to them believing in themselves and brought their fans back to believing in the team.

This loss will hurt for a while, and it should. When enough time passes, though, it will not diminish what this Maryland basketball team accomplished during what turned into a memorable 2003-04 season.

This season is over for the Maryland Terrapins, but Midnight Madness is only 206 days away. I can hardly wait.

Notes From Under the Shell
This was the first time Syracuse had ever defeated Maryland after losing their five previous meetings. The Terps had defeated the Orangemen in the 1972 NIT and the 1973 NCAA Eastern Regional. This was the first time the teams had played since 1980.

Gary Williams is now 3-10 vs. his good friend, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. Williams was 0-1 as Ohio State coach and 3-8 while at Boston College.

Maryland advanced to the NCAA Tournament second round for the seventh straight year.
The Terps’ win over UTEP game the school its eighth consecutive season with at least 20 wins.
Maryland is one of only five schools that have appeared in the last eleven NCAA Tournaments. Arizona, Cincinnati, Kansas, and Kentucky are the other four.

This was only the third time that the two pervious national champions have played in the NCAA Tournament. The other occasions were 1960 champ Ohio State facing 1961 champ Cincinnati in the 1962 championship game, and 1993 winner North Carolina facing 1994 title holder Arkansas in the 1995 Final Four.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Terps Win ACC Championship

Orignially posted on "Terp Town" on the network and syndicated to Yahoo

Two weeks ago, many Maryland fans (and an analyst who will remain nameless) were braced for the school's streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to end tonight when the brackets were announced. Instead, they are celebrating the return of the ACC Championship trophy to College Park after a 20-year wait and preparing for their team's 11 th consecutive dance.

It's official-the Terps are on an amazing roll. Earlier this season, they lost seven consecutive matchups against Top 25 teams. This weekend, they defeated three ranked teams (Wake Forest, NC State, and Duke) within less than 48 hours to earn coach Gary Williams his first conference tournament title as a head coach. Maryland, as a #4 seed, joins Wake (#4), State (#3), and Duke (#1) in the NCAA's along with fellow ACC members Georgia Tech (#3) and North Carolina (#6).

As many times as Maryland sent powerful teams into the ACC Tournament only to lose to a lower seed, this hardly seemed as if it would be the year to walk away with the trophy. The Terps had only won two of the previous 50 tournaments, in 1958 and 1984.

Most of those previous Terp teams (excluding the Juan Dixon squads) lacked a player who could, through sheer force of will, led the team to play up to or even beyond their abilities. Come to think of it, this year's team lacked that for most of the season. Not anymore. Say hello to the heart and soul of the 2003-04 Maryland Terrapins, John Gilchrist.

After an exceptional effort against NC State on Saturday, Gilchrist was merely good for most of the game, but great when it was needed. With Maryland trailing 77-74 and clock down to less than 25 seconds to play in the game, Gilchrist saw the opportunity to make a play and he seized it.

Duke's big man Shelden Williams had been caught on a defensive switch and was matched up on Gilchrist, who had the ball on the right wing. Gilchrist had the basketball IQ to recognize he could drive by Williams, and had the heart to take on the responsibility of possibly deciding the game for his team. Gilchrist scored on a layup and, as an important bonus, drew Williams' 5 th foul. Gilchrist tied the game by knocking down the ensuing free throw with 20.5 seconds left. J. J. Reddick, as he did most of the day, missed a three-pointer that could have won the game for Duke with three seconds left.

Gilchrist's shot capped an amazing comeback for the Terps. Duke had the game under control, leading 74-62 when Gary Williams called his final time out with 4:49 to play. Chris Duhon had just taken the ball coast-to-coast on an inbound play and scored on a layup. Duke would not score another basket for the next for the next 8:11.

The Blue Devils, who have won so many games by making clutch shots and showing poise down the stretch, did neither today. Instead, it was Maryland who made the plays. Nik Caner-Medley ended the 11-2 Duke run with a driving layup following a Travis Garrison block of a Duhon shot. Moments later, Garrison rejected Duhon again and Jamar Smith scored on a nifty drive.

After Smith missed a layup, Gilchrist was fouled on the follow. He missed the second of two free throws but Mike Jones rebounded for Maryland. He got the ball to Gilchrist, who was sent to the line again and made both shots. Jones came up huge moments later when he coolly knocked down a three-pointer to cut the Blue Devils' lead to 75-74 with 33 seconds left. Luol Deng made two foul shots to give Duke a three-point lead before Gilchrist sent the game into overtime.

Maryland finished regulation on a 15-3 run, but Duke's Daniel Ewing scored the first two points of overtime from the foul line. Caner-Medley and McCray had fouled out, leaving the Terps with a lineup including Mike Jones and seldom-used Mike Grinnon, the last surviving member of the national championship team.

In a moment reminiscent of Billy Hahn being pressed into duty in the 1974 ACC championship game vs. NC State, Duke wisely sent Grinnon to the line with Maryland leading 85-82 and only 1:15 remaining in overtime. Grinnon smoothly sank both free throws and, following a layup by Duhon, Jones added two more. Duhon cut Maryland's lead to 89-87 on a three-point play with 38 seconds left, but the Terps closed out the game by making 6-8 free throws and shutting the Blue Devils out.

Maryland never backed down from Duke today. The Terps got out of the gate quickly, jumping out to a 13-6 lead and stretched it out to 27-16. The Blue Devils, as they tend to do, came back with an 11-2 run and later tied the game at 34-34, but Maryland took a 38-36 lead in at halftime.

Duke quickly jumped ahead after halftime and gradually built their lead up to 12 points, but that just set the stage for another stirring comeback by the Terps, the most unlikely one yet this season.

Gilchrist, who was named the tournament MVP, again led Maryland with 26 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Jamar Smith tied his career by scoring 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Travis Garrison set a career high with 19 points. That's three different Terrapin players who had their career high in scoring during this tournament!

Duhon held his own against Gilchrist, leading Duke scorers with 21 points. Duhon went down in the first half chasing a loose ball and ran into some television equipment. He stayed down for several minutes, and it looked as if Coach K would have to administer last rites on the scene. Fortunately, Duhon was not seriously injured and returned to the game nursing a bruised rib. I can't imagine what he would have been like if it had been something like a blown out knee.

Luol Deng scored 14 and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds. Daniel Ewing scored 19, and Redick scored 16 points, but made only 6-17 shots including 1-8 from beyond the three-point arc. Shelden Williams chipped in 11 points and 12 rebounds, but played only 23 minutes due to foul trouble.

Maryland's biggest advantage today was from the foul line. The Terps made 32-44 (72.7%) while the Blue Devils made only 16-31 (51.6%). One of the favorite statistics experts love to point about Duke's success is the fact that they usually make more free throws than their opponents attempt. Maryland turned the tables on them in that area today. Terrapin fans have loudly expressed their frustration about officiating in Terps-Devils games, but overall Duke received no apparent advantage from the guys in the striped shirts. It was not a particularly well officiated game, but the calls (or no-calls) balanced out.

The announcers were talking about how “un-Duke-like” the Blue Devils played during this game. What also happened is that the Terps played quite “Maryland-like.” The Terps attacked their opponents all weekend and, as coach Williams said, “We played with a lot of confidence, and that came gradually throughout the year.”

Williams said that the Terps' five game winning streak (four wins over ranked teams) is “possibly as good a run as any team I've ever coached.” Does he feel like there are any limits on what his team can accomplish the rest of the season? “You sure don't feel like it right now.” Williams replied.

Coach K was very gracious in defeat. He said, “Maryland needs to be congratulated. What amazing heart those kids showed throughout the weekend. They never allowed themselves to get beat.” He shared a moment with Williams in the post-game handshake, something that is usually measured in nano-seconds when those two coaches square off. Duke fans may have a harder time next year denying that there is still an intense rivalry between their Devils and the Terps.

The newly crowned ACC champions returned home to Comcast Center about 7:30 PM and were greeted by hundreds of students at a brief pep rally. Thousands of students took over Route 1 in front of the College Park campus when the game ended, but police in riot gear were on the scene and kept incidents to a minimum.

Maryland will open NCAA tournament action on Thursday in Denver, where they face the #13 seed (and lowest ranked at-large team) Texas El-Paso in the Phoenix bracket. There are no East, West, Southeast, or West designations this year. A first round win could set up a second round contest featuring the last two national champions, as the Terps would play the winner of Syracuse-BYU. I'll have more on the brackets later in the week.

Notes From Under the Shell
I must start this section with a personal note. About a month ago, when the Terps were deep into their mid-ACC season funk, I had a discussion with my wife about their dwindling chances of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. She told me, rather matter-of-factly, that it wouldn't matter because they were going to win the ACC tournament. After asking her to repeat herself, I laughed. Needless to say, she is enjoying the last laugh today, and I am enjoying it with her. The lesson here is that husbands should always, always listen to their wives.

Jamar Smith joined Gilchrist on the all-tournament team along with Duke's Shelden Williams, Chris Duhon, and Daniel Ewing. Travis Garrison made the second team.

Seven of the players on Maryland's roster-Will Bowers, Travis Garrison, John Gilchrist, Ekene Ibekwe, Mike Jones, Chris McCray, and D. J. Strawberry, had not yet been born when the Terps won their last ACC championship, also over Duke, on March 11, 1984.

Today was only the second ACC championship game appearance for Maryland under Gary Williams. They lost to Duke in 2000. Lefty Driesell lost five of six title games as Terps coach, and Bud Millikan won his only appearance in 1958.

Two ACC tournament anniversaries were celebrated this week. It was 30 years ago that Maryland lost to NC State in the epic 103-100 OT championship game, and 20 years since they won their last title. Add another milestone to commemorate in ten years-the Cinderella Terps.

Maryland is now 2-1 vs. Duke in ACC title games. They defeated the Blue Devils in 1984, Coach K's first NCAA tournament team. In 1980, the #1 seed Terps lost to #6 Duke 73-72 in the game that, despite Mike Gminski's comments to the contrary, Kenny Dennard undercut Buck Williams with no foul call on the final play of the game.

Maryland ended Duke's string of five consecutive ACC championships and victories in 17 consecutive tournament games.

Gary Williams now joins Coach K as the only current ACC head coaches that have won the conference tournament. He is also the only current coach who also played in the tournament.

Congratulations to the Terrapin women, who also earned an NCAA bid today. They are a #12 seed and will play #5 seed Miami (FL) next Sunday on the LSU campus. The women return to the NCAA tournament after missing the last two.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Terps Comeback Tops NC State 85-82

Originally posted on "Terp Town" on the network and syndicated to Yahoo

It will be a nerve-wracking Selection Sunday for Maryland fans, but not for the reason they thought only a couple of weeks ago. Instead of sweating out the announcement of the NCAA Tournament brackets, Terp fans will be rooting for victory in their team's surprising appearance in the ACC Tournament championship game vs. Duke at 1:00 PM.

Maryland (18-11) earned their spot in the title game the hard way (is there any other way for this team?). They set an ACC Tournament record by making up a 19-point halftime deficit and defeated the #17 ranked North Carolina State Wolfpack (20-9) 85-82.

An element often lacking in previous Terp failures in this event (only one previous semi-final victory since 1984) was their best players coming up big with a game on the line. Today, however, Maryland's John Gilchrist played like Godzilla with a jump shot, scoring 23 points in the second half to lead the Terps' amazing comeback.

Of course, a team needs to get their butts whipped for a while to be in position to need a big rally. From a Maryland perspective, that is exactly what happened to them in the first half. It wasn't that the Terps played so poorly. They weren't great, but they weren't awful, either. NC State, on the other hand, WAS great.

When the Wolfpack plays well, their Princeton-style offense can be a work of art. Their first half performance would rank up there with a Van Gough or Rembrandt. State made 62.5% of their shots-that's very good. They also knocked down 63.6% (7-11) from three-point range. That is very, very good—outstanding, actually.

Ilian Evtimov had the best strokes for the Pack, scoring 15 points on 5-5 shooting and making all four of his three-pointers. Julius Hodge added 13 points for State, going 7-7 from the free throw line.

Before the first media time out of the game, the Wolfpack already led 15-6. Maryland responded with a 9-1 run to cut State's advantage to 16-15, but the Pack then hit the Terps with an 8-2 run. After a Jamar Smith hoop cut State's lead to 24-19 Maryland's offense went cold. They scored only one hoop in a span of 8:46.

While cobwebs were growing on the basket the Terps were attacking, the Wolfpack embarked on a 21-5 burst. Evtimov was knocking down long- range shots, and Hodge was attacking the basket, scoring or getting to the foul line. A Chris McCray steal and dunk just before halftime “cut” State's lead to 45-26 at the break.

For Maryland fans watching at home, admit it, you spent halftime looking for a fork to stick in them, weren't you? If you were still rummaging around the kitchen when the second half began, you missed seeing the momentum of this game take a quick 180-degree turn in the Terps' favor.

Maryland wasted no time getting the fans' and NC State's attention after the break. Gilchrist got things going by turning a reverse layup into a conventional three-point play. He then fed Smith for a jump hook on the Terps' next possession and, moments later following a McCray steal scored on a floater. Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek called a time out only 1:19 into the half with his team's lead cut to 12 points and Maryland's bench erupting with emotion.

Hodge briefly slowed the Terps' onslaught with a dunk and a three-pointer, but Maryland's pressure defense was more disruptive than it had been all season and continued to cause problems for State. The Pack still led by ten points, however, 53-43 when the Terps exploded again.

Maryland scored ten unanswered points within only 2:05 to tie the game for the first time at 53-53. This run started with an odd delay-of-game technical foul against the NC State bench. McCray made both ensuing free throws, then scored on a drive following a blocked shot by Ekene Ibekwe. Only seconds later, Ibekwe had an embarrassing moment when he tried to dunk to finish off a fast break only to see the rim get in his way. To illustrate just how well things were going for the Terps, Smith was right there to grab the rebound and toss in a short jumper. Travis Garrison tied the score with a baseline jumper.

The Wolfpack had moved out to a 65-63 lead when Gilchrist showed just how much thngs were going his way when he banked in a three pointer. D. J. Strawberry immediately stole the ball and scored to set State back on their heels a bit.

With a short bench due to injuries to starting guard Scooter Sherrill (who also missed the Terps win in Raleigh) and big man Jordan Collins, the Wolfpack players were tired, but gamely kept fighting. Hodge and Marcus Melvin carried the load down the stretch, just as they had done in Raleigh. In the last 9:50 of the game, they scored all but three of State's points, with an Evtimov basket the lone exception. As in Raleigh, Hodge's and Melvin's efforts came up short.

Ultimately, the Wolfpack could not stop John Gilchrist. With plenty of help from Jamar Smith and Chris McCray, Gilchrist would not let State make one final run. After Maryland's lead had been cut to 79-78 in the final minute, McCray drove the lane for a layup to make it 81-78. A Hodge free throw cut it to 81-79, but Nik Caner-Medley, scoreless to this point, knocked down two clutch free throws with 27 seconds left. Melvin missed a three and a follow, and Caner-Medley put the game away with two more free throws. Amazingly, again just like the recent game at Raleigh, Hodge hit a three-pointer at the buzzer that cut the final margin but had no impact on the outcome.

Gilchrist played the best half on any Maryland player this season in the final 20 minutes. He dominated the game but did not monopolize the ball. While scoring his 23 points, he led the Terps to a 59-point half. Even having Hodge move over to guard him could not slow Gilchrist down. John finished with a career-high 30 points, making 11-13 shots (5-7 three-pointers), dishing out seven assists, making four steals, and grabbing four rebounds. Maybe since nobody's gun went off in their pants today he also helped out with security before the game.

Jamar Smith also rediscover his offensive game, scoring 23 points (16 after halftime) on 9-14 shooting and even making 5-6 free throws. Building on last night's strong showing, the Terps actually outperformed the best free throw shooting team in the nation today. State came in making 79% from the line and converted 77% (17-22) today. Maryland did them one better, knocking down 18-22 for 81.8%. The Terps were an amazing 21-31 (67.7%) from the field in the second half.

Julius Hodge led State with 31 points on 8-11 shooting and 13-15 from the foul line. Evtimov finished with 19 points, but scored only four in the second half. Melvin added 13 points but made only 4-12 shots.

So what led to Maryland's amazing turnaround? What was that halftime talk like, Gary Williams? “We talked about tradition of the University of Maryland,” Williams said. “We have had a lot of pride on this team this year and that is what is important in this situation. I had a lot of confidence in these guys after halftime. We wanted to play and that was the key thing in that situation.”

It seems that one this Terps team felt they had nothing to lose, they found it much easier to win. Two weeks ago, they were in danger of breaking the school's streak of NCAA Tournament appearances. Now, they are one win away from bringing home the ACC Championship trophy.
Truth can be stranger than fiction. We'll find out tomorrow if this chapter of the season's story has a happy ending.

Notes From Under the Shell
The previous record for largest halftime deficit made up in an ACC tournament game was the 12 point lead Wake Forest overcame to beat Clemson in 1987. The largest halftime lead lost in a semifinal game was only eight points, which had been accomplished three times.

Maryland's 59 points in the second half was their highest output in a half this season. Their 56.4% shooting was also the best of the season. It was the Terps' best shooting game in the ACC Tournament since their 71-49 win over NC State in 1989.

NC State fans were upset when Gilchrist chose Maryland over their school when he was recruited. I bet they're really ticked off now.

The #6 seed has won the last four times it has reached the championship game of the ACC Tournament.

Maryland's last ACC championship was in 1984, when they defeated Duke in the title game. They have been to the finals only one time since then, losing to Duke in 2000.

Gary Williams has never won a conference tournament in his coaching career. Duke has won the last five in a row, an ACC record.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Terps Shoot Down Wake, 87-86

Originally posted on "Terp Town" on the network and syndicated to Yahoo

The Maryland Terrapins picked a fine time for their best offensive performance of 2004, making 53% of their shots in the second half and holding on for an exciting 87-86 win over #15/14 Wake Forest (19-9) in a quarterfinal game in the ACC Tournament. John Gilchrist broke a tie by making the game-winning free throw with 3.7 seconds left. Maryland (17-1) will face NC State at 4:00 PM Saturday in the second semifinal contest.

Unlike recent Terrapin games that featured big scoring runs, this one was close throughout. Neither team ever led by more than six points, and the game featured 14 lead changes and 13 ties.

The first half featured the type of shooting we have come to expect in Maryland games this season—not very good. Both teams made just under 41% of their shots but, most importantly for the Terps, the Demon Deacons were not lighting them up from three point range as they had done in their two previous meetings, both Wake Forest victories.

Another important factor that worked in Maryland's favor in the first half was the rebounding. After getting killed on the boards in the first half of the teams' most recent meeting in College Park, the Terps were even in rebounding with the Deacons at halftime. Jamar Smith was again a non-factor, but John Gilchrist and Travis Garrison each pulled down four boards. Gilchrist dished out four assists and Garrison led Maryland scorers with 10 points.

The Deacons played a lot of 2-3 zone defense, but Maryland handled it reasonably well. Instead of Gilchrist running the shot clock down dribbling at the point, the Terps attacked Wake's defense and were aggressive on the boards. They were also picking up the Deacon's guards earlier than in previous games and not giving them much room to shoot threes. After the game, Maryland coach Gary Williams said, “We were fortunate to play good defense on the three-point shooters for the most part.”

With little offensive production inside from Smith or Hassan Fofana, Maryland stayed in the game by making free throws and knocking down three-pointers. That's right, I said the Terrapins made their free throws (10-14) and three-pointers (4-8).

Wake led 34-30 late in the first half and threatened to stretch it out further after a Maryland turnover and foul had Vytas Danelius at the foul line. He missed both, however, and the Terps scored the next three hoops to regain the lead. Fofana scored on a feed from Chris McCray, then McCray got a piece of a Danelius three-pointer and knocked down a jumper at the other end. Garrison scored on a layup in transition to put Maryland ahead 36-34, and a Jamaal Levy driving layup sent the teams into the locker room tied at 36-36.

I wondered if the Terps had not squandered a chance to take control of the game, figuring the Deacons were bound to play better offensively in the second half. Wake did play a lot better, scoring 50 points in the second half. What I did not anticipate was that Maryland would score 51.

The theory that the Terps would come out and play loser after their wins over NC State and Virginia last week held up, particularly after halftime. Maryland played one of their sharpest, most free-flowing halves of basketball of the season in the second half of this game. Williams later said, “I thought we ran the offense really well in the second half.”

The Terps improved on the things they did well in the first half, outrebounding Wake 23-16, making 5-6 three-pointers, and making 14-18 from the foul line. Gilchrist and McCray scored a lot of the points, but Williams said, “We had a lot of guys step up.”

Maryland had taken their largest lead so far, 60-55, when the Deacons struck quickly. Chris Paul, the game's high scorer with 30 points, converted a traditional three-point play and, moments later, made a three-pointer to give Wake a 61-60 lead.

Maryland responded with an 11-4 run to take the largest lead of the game, 71-65. Four Terps scored during this stretch that Gilchrist started with a three and Garrison ended by following a Smith miss. Levy and Paul combined for Wake's next 13 points, nine by Levy, while Maryland cooled off and drew the Deacons within 79-78 with less than five minutes to play.

The Terps were pounding the ball into Smith relentlessly, and he continued to struggle converting opportunities into hoops. Smith finished 5-15 from the floor but did score back-to-back baskets on a dipsy-doo reverse layup and a turnaround jumper. As has been his recent trend, Jamar Smith saved his best for when his team needed it the most.

Nik Caner-Medley put Maryland ahead 82-78 with a three-pointer from the corner with 4:10 to play. This would be the Terps final hoop of the game. Justin Gray responded with a three of his own to pull the Deacons back within one, but Wake would miss their next four shots. During that stretch, Garrison and McCray both went 2-2 from the foul line to give Maryland an 86-81 lead.

Chris Paul made a three-pointer with 42.9 seconds left to cut the Terps' lead to two, then forced a turnover that he converted into points with two free throws to tie the game with 20 seconds to play. After Maryland called its last timeout, Gilchrist put a spin move on the Deacons' Taron Downey and drew a foul with 3.7 seconds left. Gilchrist made the first and front-rimmed the second, but tipped the rebound and kept the ball alive long enough to prevent Wake Forest from setting up for a final shot.

Gilchrist and Garrison led the Terps with 16 points each, McCray and Caner-Medley added 13, and Smith scored 11 points. Garrison's game-high ten rebounds gave him his first career double-double. Gilchrist made all four of his three-point attempts and handed out six assists. To emphasize Gary Williams' point about several players stepping up; five different Maryland players had at least five rebounds, five different players had a steal, and seven individuals blocked a shot.

The Terps' balanced effort was enough to overcome Chris Paul's 20 second half points. Levy's late burst gave him a total of 18 points for the game. Justin Gray scored 14 for the Deacons but made only 5-14 shots. Wake was 9-23 from three-point range, not bad but not good enough on this night.

After the game, Gilchrist said, “We are coming together as a team with our experience now.” Tonight, Maryland played like they had it together. They looked like a team that wants to keep playing basketball for a while. Efforts like this one could make that happen.

Notes from Under the Shell
There was a bizarre incident behind the Maryland bench early in the second half. According to reports, a fan had carried a gun into the arena and accidentally shot himself. He was treated and taken into custody. “My first thought,” Gary Williams said later, “was let's get out of here because you didn't know what it was.”

Williams added, “The ref's did a great job at keeping it away from the game.” Yes folks, on the same night Maryland made 24-32 free throws Gary Williams compliments the referees. Was there a full moon out tonight?

Today was the first time since the very first ACC Tournament in 1954 that two games were decided by one point in the quarterfinals. Georgia Tech defeated North Carolina 83-82 on a last second shot by Jarrett Jack.

This will be Maryland's 11 th trip to the ACC Semifinals in the last 13 years. They have lost 11 of the 12 previous semi-final games.

Tonight was the first time the Terps have defeated a higher-seeded team in the ACC Tournament since they were #5 in 1997 and defeated #4 Clemson 76-61.

This is Maryland's lowest seed (#6) since 1993. The last time (not counting the dreaded play-in game) that the Terps won a game from the bottom half of the bracket was in 1989, when they finished eighth and defeated #1 NC State 71-49.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Get Out the Dancing Shoes!

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

By any reasonable estimation, the Maryland Terrapins punched their dance ticket tonight, securing their 11 th straight NCAA bid with an emotional 70-61 win at Comcast Center. Of course, it wasn't easy.

The tone of the first half was set very early. After Virginia (16-11, 6-10) scored on the game's first possession, Maryland (16-11, 7-9) proceeded to miss a three-pointer and grab the offensive rebound FOUR TIMES on their first possession before finally turning the ball over. The Cavaliers returned the favor by missing four shots on their next possession before committing a turnover. Ugh!

Virginia coach Pete Gillen, determined not to let the Terps' John Gilchrist dominate the game the way he had down in Charlottesville, had his team play a box-and-one defense much of the first half. This setup is essentially a 2-2 zone with one player matched up man-to-man, this time on Gilchrist. One of the players in the zone usually cheated over toward Gilchrist when he moved into their area. The idea was not to let number 11 beat Virginia again, and it was effective. Gilchrist did not take a shot until knocking down a jumper with 9:33 remaining in the half, and was only 1-2 at halftime.

Maryland took an 18-13 lead after a 11-4 run. Five different players scored during this spurt, which forced Gillen to burn his second time out with 8:23 left in the half. The Terps' offense went into the deep freeze after that break, scoring only one hoop (a three-pointer by Nik Caner-Medley) over 6:15. The Cavaliers weren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard, but they moved out to a 26-22 lead. Devin Smith came off the bench to spark Virginia with seven points during this stretch.

Chris McCray, who returned to the starting lineup tonight, briefly broke the Cavs' momentum with a three, but Virginia closed the half with an 8-2 run to lead 34-27 at halftime. The Cavaliers had outscored the Terps 21-9 since trailing 18-13 and appeared to be in control of the game.

The shooting in the first half was abysmal, horrific, gruesome-well, you get the idea. It was really, really bad. Virginia made a rousing 32.4% of their shots, including only 1-9 three-pointers, but Maryland topped that (in a bad way) by shooting only 28.6%. The teams combined to make 22-72 shots in the half.

Afterwards, Maryland coach Gary Williams said, “It was interesting at halftime. We had to dig deep and see how much we wanted the game.” McCray said the feeling was, “We've got to go fight. We can't give up on ourselves.”

The early returns were not positive with two Terrapin turnovers and two Cavalier hoops giving Virginia their biggest lead, 38-27, only 37 seconds into the second half.

At this point, Williams called a time out. “I was trying to change the body language of the team,” he said later. “It had nothing to do with X's and O's.” Whatever he said, it worked. Maryland immediately embarked on an 8-0 run and, just when they were on the verge of being blown out, stormed back into the game.

McCray started the run with a baseline jumper, then Jamar Smith, playing his final home game on Senior Night, tossed in a jump hook. Gilchrist scored on a pull-up jumper on a fast break, and McCray and Smith each added free throws. The Comcast Center crowd, which had grown quiet, exploded and stayed loud the rest of the night. Williams thanked them after the game, saying “When we got down 11, we appreciated everyone staying and making a lot of noise.”

The Terps still trailed 42-38 when they had their most spectacular run of the night. Smith started it when he finished a drive by throwing down a powerful dunk, probably releasing some frustration from what became a 3-13 shooting night. McCray then came up with a steal and, running ahead of the defense, flew in for a reverse breakaway dunk. Williams joked afterwards that he asked McCray if he got an extra point for degree of difficulty. D. J. Strawberry then put Maryland ahead by slashing through the lane and driving for a layup.

After an Elton Brown follow shot tied the score again at 44-44, the Terps appeared to take control of the game by scoring the next eight points. Smith followed a Strawberry miss, then McCray scored the next six points. The first hoop was courtesy of Strawberry, who made a steal and dished to McCray for a layup. The next two baskets were on the identical play, when McCray cut into the lane, was thrown a pass at the perfect time, and swished the jump shots. Maryland 52-44 lead had come as a result of outscoring the Cavailers 25-6 since Williams' time out in the first minute of the second half.

Virginia, playing tough for a team that had not defeated a quality team on the road all season, drew even at 57-57 with a 13-5 burst of their own. The Cavaliers scored a mind boggling 13 points on their next five possessions, with Devin Smith scoring on both a conventional three-point play and making a three-point shot.

Williams called another time out with 4:22 to play, and again achieved the desired results. Maryland scored the next seven points, amazingly five of them coming on free throws. Smith made 1-2 from the line, Gilchrist made two, Strawberry scored on a layup off a behind-the-back pass from Smith, and McCray made two free throws. The Terps had an apparently safe 64-57 lead with only 2:16 remaining in the game.

Virginia made one last gasp attempt to pull the game out, and closed within 64-61 after Elton Brown knocked down a jumper and made two free throws. Maryland, although not without some anxious moments, closed the game out at the foul line.

While D. J. Strawberry was on his way down the court to score the final basket just before the buzzer, Gary Williams cut loose and celebrated, going beyond his usual animated fist pumps and actually becoming airborne for a brief moment. McCray commented on Williams' celebration, “I loved it. He's been sticking with us all through the ups and downs all year and we really wanted to get better for him and for ourselves. That's what we did tonight, we went out and made him proud of us.”

Following his team's 70-61 win, Williams explained that outburst, “I felt really good because we worked REALLY hard. I'm proud of these guys because they didn't stop trying.”

Maryland's defense never stopped in the second half. Williams said, “I thought our defense in the second half was exceptional.” Williams' troops held the Cavaliers to 36% shooting after halftime, and out-rebounded Virginia 27-16 in the second half.

Chris McCray scored a career-high 20 points to lead Maryland, while Caner-Medley added 13 (4-13 shooting, 3-8 from three) and Smith chipped in ten points (3-13 shooting). Smith also pulled down 12 rebounds, posting his second double-double in ACC play. Gilchrist, Caner-Medley, and Ekene Ibekwe all added eight rebounds apiece. McCray also came up with five steals.

Maryland shot only 34.3% for the game, better than the Cavaliers' 33.9%. The Terps have held onto the ball well recently and committed only 11 turnovers tonight while forcing 15 from Virginia.

The Cavs were led by Elton Brown with 16 points, Devin Smith with 15 off the bench, and J. R. Reynolds with 14 points. Virginia sharpshooter Todd Billet suffered through a horrific night, making only 1-14 shots and was 0-10 from beyond the arc.

Afterwards, Gilchrist commented on how the team stayed together. “We've never let the negativity into this locker room,” Gilchrist said. “Give credit to Coach. He never stopped believing in us. You look up in the rafters, you don't want to be remembered as a loser.”

This team, at least, will likely not be remembered as the team that broke the NCAA Tournament streak thanks to tonight's win. Williams said, “We'll take our chances with this team.” Regardless of what happens in next week's ACC Tournament, they'll now have a chance in the big dance.

Notes From Under the Shell
Maryland finished sixth in the ACC with a 7-9 record. Wake Forest won a coin toss tonight over Georgia Tech to claim the third seed in the ACC Tournament. Both teams had finished with identical 9-7 conference records.

The lineup for next week's ACC Tournament, again being held in Greensboro, North Carolina, is as follows: Virginia and Clemson face off in the dreaded play-in game on Thursday at 7:00 PM. On Friday, #1 Duke plays the play-in winner at 12:00, #4 Georgia Tech plays #5 North Carolina at 2:30, #2 NC State faces #7 Florida State at 7:00, and #6 Maryland takes on #3 Wake Forest at 9:30. On Saturday, the winners of the #1 vs. play-in and #4 vs. #5 games meet at 1:30 followed at 4:00 by the winner of the #2 vs. #7 game facing the winner of the #3 vs. #6 game. The championship is Sunday at 1:00 PM. ESPN will carry the games nationally, while the Raycom/Jefferson Pilot network will televise them in the ACC region.

Duke has won the last five ACC Tournaments, the longest streak in the 50-year history of the conference. Maryland has won it twice, in 1958 and 1984. Gary Williams has reached only one final, in 2000 vs. Duke. His all-time record in the tournament is 11-13.

Maryland now has a 97-63 all-time record vs. Virginia. The Terps have won five of the last seven and ten of the last 11 at College Park. Virginia was the first ACC to post a win at Comcast Center last season.

The Terrapins did not report a single unsold ticket this season, setting a school record with an average attendance of 17,950 for 16 games. This breaks last season's record of 17,566 per game.

All three members of the Washington Wizards University of Maryland alumni chapter, Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, and recently signed Lonny Baxter were in attendance tonight. The honorary captain was Keith Booth, who was serenaded with the familiar “Boooooooth” chant.

Walking by the press area before the game, I saw a pleasant looking elderly gentleman sitting at one of the tables munching on some popcorn. I quickly recognized that is was none other than Red Auerbach, legendary coach and executive of the Boston Celtics. I asked him what brought him to the Comcast Center tonight. He said simply, “I'm just here to watch a ball game.” How great was that?

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Maryland Claws Past Wolfpack 70-69

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

Maryland's Jamar Smith was MIA on Saturday, then teammate John Gilchrist was late for a team meeting. They both showed up when their team needed them Wednesday night, leading the Terrapins (15-11, 6-9) to a 70-69 win over the #16/19 North Carolina State Wolfpack (18-8, 10-5). This win keeps hope alive for Maryland receiving an NCAA Tournament bid for the 11th straight season.

Chris McCray returned to the starting lineup tonight in place of Gilchrist, who was being disciplined for violating a team rule (late for a meeting). McCray continued his recent outstanding play, leading the Terps as they jumped on State early.

McCray made two free throws, scored on a coast-to-coast drive, and knocked down a three-pointer to boost Maryland to an early 11-3 lead. Smith added the other four points, and Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek called a timeout only 3:42 into the game. As the teams returned to the benches, television cameras showed Wolfpack assistant coach Larry Hunter with an expression that clearly said, “What the hell was that?” At the Maryland bench, Gilchrist (still in his sweats) ran out and gave McCray a bear hug.

The play was very sloppy early, with the teams combining for 15 turnovers in the game's first eight minutes. NC State's Julius Hodge, who torched the Terps for 28 points last month in College Park, saw his primary victim Nik Caner-Medley switch over to guard him. Hodge wasted no time in hitting a jump shot and driving for a layup to draw the Wolfpack within 17-10.

Hodge's teammate Marcus Melvin, one of State's seniors playing his final home game, started warming up by scoring on a fadeaway jumper to cut Maryland's lead to five, but the Terps responded with a 9-2 run. Mike Jones started that burst with a three-pointer.

Gilchrist, who had recently entered the game, then took advantage of a mismatch with backup Wolfpack point guard Mike O'Donnell. Sendek had to go deeper into his bench than usual due to the absence of starting guard Scooter Sherrill, out with an ankle injury suffered Sunday night. O'Donnell, who has seen some important playing time this season, looked like a team manager matched up against the muscular Gilchrist. Noticing this, Gilchrist scored Maryland's next six points. The final two came on the old playground play, when he inbounded the ball off the back of State's Ilian Evtimov, stepped inbounds, caught the deflection, and scored a layup.

Later in the half, Jones and Gilchrist made back-to-back three pointers to give the Terps their biggest lead, 40-23. Maryland cooled off at that point, making only one of their final eight shots before halftime. This enabled the Wolfpack, behind the hot shooting of Melvin and Hodge, to cut the Terps' halftime lead to 44-34.

Maryland totaled 25 bench points in the half, with Gilchrist scoring 15 and Jones 8. McCray had nine points at the break while Smith added eight. Melvin led State with 15 points (3-6 threes) and Hodge scored 11. Their teammates combined for only 2-14 shooting, however. The Terps shot 51% in the half and made 5-8 three-pointers. State shot only 38%, including 5-14 from beyond the arc.

The Wolfpack dominated the first few minutes of the second half, building on the 6-0 run with which they ended the first half. Jamar Smith scored a couple of early hoops for Maryland, but State came out of the locker room on fire. They made eight of their first nine shots and opened the half with a 18-6 run to take a 52-50 lead.

Marcus Melvin got the Pack started with a quick three-pointer, then Hodge began scoring on an array of drive and jump shots. Back-to-back threes by Evtimov gave State the lead, but the Terps did not back down.

That was really what this game was about—not backing down. Maryland coach Gary Williams said after the game, “It would have been real easy to quit.” Indeed, losing a 17-point lead to a ranked team on the road that was playing for an opportunity to win the league regular season title (still possible after Duke's loss to Georgia Tech earlier this evening), quitting would have even been predictable. One thing this Terrapin team has not been this season, however, is predictable.

Much as they did at Florida in early December, Maryland answered the Wolfpack's run with increased intensity and, perhaps more importantly, tighter defense. Over the next several minutes, there were five lead changes and two ties as every possession became a struggle.

The Terps' outside shots stopped falling, so they became more aggressive attacking the basket. Caner-Medley put Maryland ahead 56-54 with a conventional three-point play, and D. J. Strawberry gave the Terps a 62-60 lead when he scored on a wild driving layup and tacked on a free throw. Melvin and Hodge continued to provide the bulk of NC State's offense, and two free throws by Hodge tied the score yet again at 62-62 with 7:48 remaining.

At this point, the pace slowed to a crawl. The Wolfpack should have been comfortable with this tempo, yet they turned the ball over on three of their next four possessions and missed a shot on the other. Maryland was also struggling, missing five straight shots.

The game was scoreless for 3:03 until Smith came up with a steal, scared the hell out of Terrapin fans by dribbling most of the way down the court, then throwing a behind the back pass to Gilchrist for a layup. Moments later, Smith made yet another steal and fed Gilchrist for a breakaway layup to put Maryland ahead 66-62.

Evtimov missed a three-pointer on the Wolfpack's next possession that Smith rebounded and fed to Gilchrist, who was fouled and made both free throws. A jumper by Hodge broke a 5:51 scoring drought for State and cut the Terps' lead to 68-64 with 1:56 to play. Gilchrist then missed a forced three pointed and Melvin made two free throws to bring the Wolfpack with two points.

The teams traded missed shots, then Melvin missed a go-ahead three-pointer with :22 left. Hodge alertly fouled Smith, who came into the game shooting 42% from the line. He made 1-2, forcing the Wolfpack to go for a three to tie. Smith's defense forced Melvin into an impossible shot with :04 left that Smith rebounded. He was promptly fouled and made 1-2 again to give Maryland a 70-66 lead. That final free throw looked enormous seconds later when Hodge threw in a three at the buzzer.

Late-season games, the ones that often determine the success or failure of a team's entire season, are often decided by veteran leaders who make the clutch plays and want the ball with the game on the line. Julius Hodge and Marcus Melvin have demonstrated over their careers at NC State that they are that type of player. Tonight, John Gilchrist and Jamar Smith filled those roles for Maryland. Without their efforts, the Terrapins hopes for an NCAA bid would surely be over.

Gilchrist led Maryland with 21 points on 8-15 shooting, and Smith added 16 points, eight rebounds, and four steals. Smith followed Saturday's game, in which he had never played worse, with the best clutch performance of his Maryland career.

The Terps shot horrendously in the second half, making only 32.1% (1-9 from three-point range) but committed only three turnovers.

Hodge led all scorers with 27 points on 9-13 shooting and Melvin finished with 22 points (2-7 shooting in the second half, 1-5 three). The Wolfpack committed 19 turnovers in the game.
Moments after this critical victory, coach Williams told radio analyst Chris Knoche, “I was really proud of them tonight. I thought Jamar played big tonight.” He added, “down the stretch was the best defense we played tonight.”

Coach Williams summed up the season very well when he told Knoche, “It's been a struggle at times, but we haven't quit, that's for sure.” The struggle continues Sunday night with the regular season finale vs. Virginia at the Comcast Center at 8:00 PM (televised on Fox Sports Net). Maryland is now tied with Florida State and the suddenly hot Cavaliers for sixth in the ACC with a 6-9 record. The winner of Maryland-Virginia should be assured of an NCAA bid, while the loser can make plans for the NIT.

Put simply, the season comes down to Sunday night. We'll see if this Maryland teams and the Comcast Center crowd is up to the challenge.

Notes From Under the Shell
A Maryland loss Sunday night could relegate them to the dreaded ACC Tournament play-in game for the first time since 1992-93.

I suppose there is no longer any question about Jamar Smith starting on Senior Night, is there?
Virginia has defeated three ranked teams recently (NC State, North Carolina, and Wake Forest on Wednesday night), but all of those have been at home. Their only ACC road win has been at Clemson. With a 16-10 record, the Cavaliers have to be thinking a win at Maryland punches their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

Maryland broke a seven-game losing streak against ranked opponents with tonight's win. Their record stands at 4-8 vs. the Top 25 this season.

Did this game remind you a lot of the win at Florida in early December? Maryland jumps out to a big lead early on the road, the home team catches them, and then the Terps make the clutch plays down the stretch—sound familiar? It's a nerve-wracking way to win, but at least both games have had happy endings for the Terps.

During his hot streak in the first half, television cameras showed Gilchrist blowing on his index fingers like a cowboy cooling off his trusty six-shooters. He then twirled his imaginary guns and dropped them in their imaginary holsters. It's a good thing for him that a Wolfpack player didn't run by him like an imaginary defender during that display, because he would have quite likely spent some very real time on the bench.