By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2009
CORAL GABLES, Fla., Jan. 14 -- Still adorned in his black suit jacket and red tie, Maryland Coach Gary Williams strode into his postgame news conference, sat down at the dais and held a stat packet in front of him, shielding his face from a room full of observers. He spoke quickly, if sullenly, about what he had just witnessed.
The Terrapins, who with a 17-point, second-half lead were in position to slow down their typically frenetic pace, had faltered. And they had done so by committing the most inexcusable of sins for a team with offensive shortcomings.
"You know, if one thing lost the game for us tonight -- we lost our aggressiveness on the defensive end of the court," Williams said as he set down the packet and began to rub his brow with his right hand, still blocking his eyes.
Maryland's late defensive lapses led to a barrage of Miami three-pointers and, in the end, a 62-60 defeat in its first true road game of the season. The Terrapins (12-4, 1-1 ACC) have not won on Miami's home court since 1970, though such facts were of no interest to Williams as he finally let down his hand and revealed eyes completely drained of energy.
His squad, too, seemed unable to sustain the vigor it had in a commanding first-half performance. Typically this season, the Terrapins have surged late to preserve their triumphs.
But in uncharacteristic fashion Wednesday night, the Terrapins instead used the first half to showcase its tendency to be frenetically efficient. Maryland shot 50 percent from the field, forced 10 Miami turnovers and led by 12 at intermission.
"I thought early in the game Maryland was running right by us," Miami Coach Frank Haith said. "I thought they had more zip, more pop early in the ballgame and we allowed them to slow us down with their press."
Down the stretch, Maryland slowed the pace and played with an awkwardness that often accompanies unfamiliarity. It's much harder to play with a lead than it is to come from behind, Williams said.
Miami guards James Dews and Lance Hurdle hit consecutive threes with less than nine minutes to go that brought the Hurricanes back within eight points. And when Miami guard Jack McClinton nailed a shot from well beyond the arc with 5 minutes 34 seconds to play, the crowd at half-full Bank-United Center came to life.
Maryland fought its urge to slam the pedal through the floorboard, instead settling for several rotational passes before offering up a shot. Williams acknowledged afterward that his team became tentative as the second half progressed.
In turn, Miami claimed the pace and flow that Maryland had used to stake a once-sizable lead. McClinton nailed another three-pointer with 1:41 remaining to bring the Hurricanes (13-3, 2-1) within one. Twenty-one seconds later, Hurdle scored on a fast-break layup to put Miami on top.
Following a pair of free throws by Eric Hayes, McClinton struck once again from beyond the arc on a play Haith labeled "dribble-up bump." Miami led by two with 24 seconds left.
Junior guard Greivis Vasquez missed two three-pointers in the final seconds, sealing Maryland's second loss in three games.
"We just weren't being tough as a team in the last minute," said Vasquez, who finished with 15 points. "It was our game and when I shot the last shot, I thought it was going in. Tough game for us, man. It was hard cause we got the lead the whole game and we just didn't close it."
That was evident in Williams's postgame demeanor. His session with reporters lasted less than four minutes, and when it was over, he remained seated, head down.
Minutes earlier, Haith had spoken from the same spot. The top button on his white dress shirt was undone. Haith's tie and jacket had been discarded minutes into the second half, back when his team couldn't hit a shot and it appeared Maryland would coast to victory.
As he listened to McClinton answer questions, Haith also bowed his head, though more in a sense of relief than exasperation.
"We didn't play particularly well until the last two minutes of the game," Haith said.
Conversely, Maryland controlled the affair until that same time frame. Sophomore guard Adrian Bowie recorded a career-high 23 points. The Terrapins remained competitive on the boards, despite being undersized. In the end, though, it was all for naught.
"It's hard, you know, when they're double-teaming you and all of that," Vasquez said. "We just let them hit those threes. We just got to step up in crucial times, and it's got to be more than one guy. I can't do it by myself and Eric Hayes can't do it by himself and Adrian Bowie, he cannot do it by himself. We need guys to step up and that's the reality."