By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Late in the first half last night, Dave Neal passed the ball to Greivis Vasquez at the top of the key and glanced at the shot clock. Eight seconds left: Vasquez drove into the lane and drew the attention of a second defender. Six seconds left: Vasquez rose into the air, looked at the rim and then passed to Jin Soo Kim on the baseline. Four seconds left, three seconds: Kim slammed the ball through the net, much to the delight of a vivacious Comcast Center crowd.
With time running out to prove it is better than its record would indicate and to demonstrate its unwillingness to wilt in the face of external distractions, the Maryland men's basketball team pulled off a 73-68 victory over Miami. The outcome remained in question until the very end, though the result -- given the events of the past week -- proved much more important than the manner in which it was attained.
"That's the team we are this year; that's how we have to be this year," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "Some nights, somebody's going to get a lot of points, but at the same time, we have to really dig in for each other, and I thought the players really pulled for each other tonight. That was a key thing, a key to the win."
An unmistakable buzz permeated the arena early on last night. Maybe it had something to do with the alternate gold uniforms the Terrapins sported. Maybe it had something to do with freshman guard Sean Mosley starting in place of junior Eric Hayes.
Maybe it had something to do with the front-row presence of Lance Stephenson, a highly touted recruit from Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. Throughout the evening, fans welcomed him with chants urging him to come to College Park.
Regardless of its origin, the positive vibe that emanated out of the stands and onto the court fueled an energetic performance from the Terrapins. After harassing Miami with full- and half-court pressure throughout the first half, Maryland settled into zone defensive schemes that befuddled the Hurricanes' shooters after the intermission.
"At first, they didn't know what we were doing," said junior forward Landon Milbourne, who finished with a team-high 17 points. "Sometimes when you're coming down, especially for point guards, when you come down and you think it's a zone but it's not, guys are moving in different ways, you don't really know what play to call, and it's tough. It gives them a little delay, and that helps us out a lot."
Maryland's half- and full-court defense had lost a good measure of its luster in recent weeks. But the Terrapins employed the press with a renewed sense of purpose against Miami, and Mosley played a vital role.
Several times in the first half, Mosley forced Hurricanes point guard Lance Hurdle to his left as he crossed midcourt. As Hurdle neared the sideline, Mosley was joined by a teammate and together they badgered Hurdle into a turnover. Maryland tallied 13 first-half points off turnovers.
But the Terrapins' attention to detail on defense was evened out by first-half shooting woes that have plagued the team for much of the season. Maryland shot 34.3 percent before halftime, before responding to shoot 50 percent after the break. Williams said patience was the catalyst.
"I think sometimes when you get a lead there's a tendency to think you have to do everything right," Williams said. "But you just have to keep making good plays. The ball won't go in sometimes, Miami will steal it or whatever, but we never let up."
Poor shooting factored into Maryland's deflating defeat the last time these two teams met. On Jan. 14, the Terrapins blew a 17-point second-half lead and dropped a 62-60 decision.
"It was actually even better that we didn't have the lead at, like, 16 because sometimes we get overconfident," said Vasquez, who tallied 11 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists. "I like it better playing close."
Last night, the Terrapins held a lead throughout most of the second half and didn't succumb to the same errors that led to defeat the first time around against the Hurricanes. Maryland continued to utilize its transition offense whether its lead was five points or 11.
This was the style of play the Terrapins knew would be their best option for success entering the season. They could negate their lack of size with extreme defensive intensity and a heart-racing offensive pulse.
Such tools had been absent of late, a fact covered up in the past week by off-court news that resonated even louder. Kim was declared academically ineligible Monday before receiving a waiver from the NCAA, which reinstated him Friday. Meantime, Williams became involved in a public spat with the Maryland athletic department.
"We knew how bad Gary wanted this win, because it's been a tough week for him," Neal said. "We kind of had his back in this game, and we were going to win this one for Gary."