American Dream in College Park
Sunday, December 23, 2007
On one half of the sideline, the players slouched in their chairs, resting their heads on their knees, a show of resignation. On the other, the players didn't bother to sit, choosing instead to stand and relish in the improbable. But the common trait yesterday at Comcast Center was disbelief, as American defeated Maryland, 67-59, in an upset eight decades in the making.
American had not defeated Maryland since the 1926-27 season, the first meeting between the two programs, which took place on a date lost to history. The Terrapins then won the next 14 meetings, underscoring the direction the programs had taken in the years since. But the upstart Eagles altered that history last night, outplaying and out-willing their much bigger rival.
"To be able to come in and play against a program the magnitude of Maryland and win on their home court, I'm happy for the players, and I'm happy for our school," American Coach Jeff Jones said. "It will certainly make Christmas that much more fun."
After a nine-day exam break since a home loss to Ohio, the Terrapins hoped to show any signs of tangible progress in this season of frustration. Instead, the Terrapins played 40 minutes that exposed nearly every flaw that has resulted in their first 6-6 start since the 1995-96 season. Maryland, which 10 days ago was 131-3 at home against nonconference foes under Coach Gary Williams, lost its second straight such game.
American guards Derrick Mercer and Garrison Carr outplayed their more heralded counterparts. The Terrapins struggled to shoot consistently. But the most disturbing element for Maryland was the lack of fight.
Terrapins guard Greivis Vasquez scored a career-high 28 points, providing the Terrapins a spark in the second half. But it was hardly enough to rescue Maryland from losing its third straight home game for the first time since the 1992-93 season.
Other than Vasquez and fellow guard Eric Hayes, who scored 16 points, the rest of the Terrapins combined to shoot 4 of 27. Seniors James Gist and Bambale Osby combined for four points and five rebounds.
"I think our intensity level is pathetic," Vasquez said.
American (7-5) established itself as the clear aggressor from the start, a difference made most apparent by the Eagles' 40-33 rebounding advantage. Mercer scored a team-high 18 points while teammate Bryce Simon, who entered play averaging just six points per game, finished with 17.
"For our program and team, it's big-time," Simon said. "I think it shows what we can do if we work hard. That's what it's all about: us working hard."
American played most of the game in a 2-3 zone defense, daring the Terrapins to shoot from outside, and Maryland failed to force an adjustment.
The game's plodding pace played to American's advantage, and the Eagles led 25-20 at halftime after Maryland managed just five field goals, shot 21 percent and went 11 minutes without a field goal.
"That's got to be some kind of record," Williams said.
Williams, who coached American to a school-record 24 wins in 1981, conceded afterward that the Terrapins have regressed, and in his ongoing search for solutions, he altered his lineup in the second half in hopes of finding a solution, inserting Osby and Dave Neal in place of Braxton Dupree and Landon Milbourne.
But even though the Terrapins showed signs of life, the Eagles, sensing opportunity, pushed their lead to as much as 12 and did not let the Terrapins come within five the rest of the way.
"We told ourselves that whatever run they had, we were gonna stick together as a team," Mercer said. "If they make more runs, we just have to stick together and make plays and make them play at our tempo. . . .
"Everybody in the world would think Maryland would beat American. We just came in and said, 'Why not come in and give it our all?' We didn't come over here just to play against Maryland. We came out here to win."