Terrapins Get Shelled Yet Again On the Road
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
TALLAHASSEE, Jan. 30 -- Two months and two days have passed since the Maryland men's basketball team left a visitor's locker room a winner. As the Terrapins flew home from Illinois after that game, a convincing victory and an unblemished record in their pocket, worrying about making the NCAA tournament seemed an unlikely activity.
But after Florida State thrashed Maryland, 96-79, Tuesday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center, the Terrapins were another step closer toward missing out on the tournament for the third straight season. The culprit last night was a porous defense that surrendered 27 points to do-everything forward Al Thornton. But the specter hanging over all the Terrapins' struggles is their inability to win on the road.
Maryland (16-6, 2-5) has lost all four of its road games in the ACC, making the Terrapins 2-10 on the road in conference this season and last. They've lost 16 of their past 20 road contests in the league.
"That's what you have to do in league play, get the win on the road," Coach Gary Williams said. "That's the way it goes."
This latest loss dropped the Terrapins, who were led by 23 points from James Gist, into a tie for ninth place in the conference and vaulted another opponent from the ACC's pack ahead of them. Had Maryland won, it would have passed FSU in the league. Instead, the Seminoles (16-6, 4-4) separated themselves from the Terrapins by 1 1/2 games in the standings.
Still, the Terrapins remained resolute about their postseason chances. Williams stumped for the conference and his team during his postgame news conference, pointing to Maryland's wins over Michigan State, Illinois and St. John's and also mentioning Virginia's wins over Gonzaga and Arizona.
"There's no pressure," senior guard Mike Jones said. "We have several games left. We just try to get one on the road, if possible. We have our confidence where we can win at home. We just got to pick it up on the road. But there's no pressure. We know the type of team that we have."
Tuesday night, that was a team lacking on defense. Unstoppable off the dribble and relentless inside, Thornton made 12 of 17 shots while showcasing why he may be the conference's best player. He made both his three-pointers, grabbed eight rebounds and made a pair of steals.
Maryland tried to double-team Thornton, but that only gave FSU's guards open shots. Florida State shot 61.7 percent, including 8 of 17 on three-pointers. Three other Seminoles scored at least 15 points, including 24 from Jason Rich. Maryland left shooters open and allowed Florida State's quick guards to bull their way to the hoop.
"We played terrible defense tonight," D.J. Strawberry said. "Al Thornton was really just a matchup problem for us. You can't really help too much when he's facing up and hitting jump shots."
Both teams sizzled from the opening tip, creating an offensive flurry with a blistering pace. They combined to shoot 64.9 percent in the first half, matching each other shot for shot by driving through or shooting over the defense. Florida State took a 49-46 lead into the break.
"You score 46 points in the first half, you expect to be in good shape," Williams said. "And you're down three points."
But once the second half began, Maryland's shots stopped dropping, while Florida State's continued to fall. Florida State ripped off a 12-2 run to start the second half, highlighted by Isiah Swann's second four-point play of the night. Swann, who is from Gaithersburg, scored 15 points.
The contest slipped out of the Terrapins' reach minutes later, when Thornton swatted the ball from Greivis Vasquez and raced for a breakaway dunk, putting the Seminoles ahead by 16.
"We couldn't keep up with the way the scoring was going," Williams said.
Maryland sliced the lead to nine on a Strawberry basket with six minutes left, but that would be as close as it would get. The Seminoles scored the next nine points in fewer than three minutes, gaining their largest lead, 88-70, with 3:31 left.
"It's frustrating, but you have to keep things in perspective," Williams said. "You can't rule yourself out of anything at this point in the season."