Terps' Road Home Just Got Tougher

Eric Hayes, battling Miami's Anthony King for the ball, combined with fellow Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez for nine turnovers.
Eric Hayes, battling Miami's Anthony King for the ball, combined with fellow Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez for nine turnovers. (By Lynne Sladky -- Associated Press)
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By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 24, 2008

CORAL GABLES, Fla., Feb. 23 -- One week ago, Maryland looked like a team gathering momentum for an NCAA tournament run. But by the time the Terrapins left BankUnited Center on Saturday afternoon, following their second loss of the week, their momentum was gone, and their postseason hopes were in peril.

"We've got to win these next three games," forward James Gist said after a 78-63 loss to Miami. "We've got to work hard. That's what this is: college basketball, the ACC. When March comes around, this is what you signed up for, this is what it is like this time of year."

The Terrapins (17-11, 7-6) enter what promises to be a frantic final two weeks of the regular season, which will include two of three games on the road, with no margin for error. Barring a deep run in the ACC tournament, they likely will need at least two more regular season victories to have a reasonable chance at an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.

Maryland has played its best this season on the road, earning its most impressive victory at North Carolina, but the Terrapins, coming off a late-game collapse Wednesday against Virginia Tech, faded down the stretch against the Hurricanes, who have won five of the teams' last six meetings.

While Maryland concluded a disappointing week, Miami (19-7, 6-6) significantly improved its tournament chances with a fourth straight victory Saturday. The Terrapins trailed by five points with about three minutes to play, but they missed key shots in the final minutes and made just 29 percent from the field in the second half. Defensively, they allowed dribble penetration at the most inopportune times and watched Miami grab critical offensive rebounds down the stretch.

"That combination of things cost you the game," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said.

Gist had few highlights, making 3 of 11 shots and scoring 10 points. Since his 30-point performance against North Carolina State on Feb. 9, Gist has had three games in which he has scored 10 points or less. Williams believes the 30-point game got the attention of teams, prompting them to focus more on stopping Gist.

"It's probably a little more crowded in there when he catches the ball," Williams said. "There are a lot of ways to score, and we have to figure out a way to get him more looks. He has to figure out a way to get to the offensive glass more; there are points there to get."

Gist, who made only one of his first six shots Saturday, said he is a little frustrated by missing shots, adding that the only solution is to get back in the gym and work. On Saturday, Gist's performance was also affected by sitting on the bench for 10 minutes in the second half after picking up his fourth foul on an over-the-back call.

"It was frustrating," Gist said. "Some fouls you just can't give up. The foul over the back, I can't really do anything about that. I was just trying to be aggressive."

One of the few positives for Maryland was the play of forward Jerome Burney, the redshirt freshman who had not played since Jan. 2. After outplaying the other reserve big men in practice the last few weeks, Williams opted to play Burney 12 minutes -- the second most he's played all season -- while Gist struggled with foul trouble.

Burney's four points represented Maryland's only point production from the reserves. He also grabbed five rebounds and converted a rim-rattling follow-up dunk in the closing seconds of the first half.

Depth has been a significant problem for the Terrapins, and Miami outscored Maryland 18-4 in bench points, but Williams believes Burney has a chance to contribute over the next few weeks. Forward Bambale Osby said: "It's a beautiful thing to see. The last couple of days in practice, he has really played well."

Gist added, "That's what we need coming off the bench, some guys giving us positive minutes."

With a little more than three minutes to play, Miami guard Jack McClinton made a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down that enthused at least half the crowd of 6,058 at BankUnited Center. A little more than a minute later, McClinton broke Maryland's spirit again when he penetrated and tossed in the ball to beat the shot clock and give the Hurricanes a nine-point advantage. Another key play in the final minutes occurred when Miami beat Maryland's pressure defense and forward Dwayne Collins threw down a resounding dunk.

Miami had little trouble negotiating Maryland's various forms of pressure defense throughout the game. The Hurricanes turned over the ball just six times. By contrast, Maryland's starting guards, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez, had nine turnovers combined. Maryland's top two scorers, Vasquez and Gist, combined to make only 8 of 28 shots.

"To lose to Virginia Tech in a game we probably should have won, and to lose today, you certainly don't want to do that," Williams said. "They are good teams. They have proven it. The league is very close; that's all I can say."

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