By Steve Yanda
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The game was less than three minutes old, and anxiety was already high at Comcast Center. Maryland had missed its first five shots against a Fairfield defense that frequently switched its defensive schemes. There were no points on the board for either squad, and the Terrapins' angst sharpened with each offensive miscue.
Then senior guard Eric Hayes caught a pass on the wing, pump-faked to draw his defender into the air, took a step to his left and fired a three-point attempt. It was good -- the basket, the omen and, eventually, the game. Behind a steadying first-half performance by Hayes and a stifling team-wide defensive effort after the intermission, Maryland pulled away for a 71-42 win Tuesday night.
In his perpetually understated manner, Hayes led the Terrapins with 14 points, 10 of which came in a first half in which offensive rhythm was in short supply for Maryland. The Terrapins missed eight of their first 11 shots and trailed their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opponent midway through the first half.
With sophomore forwards Jin Soo Choi (ankle) and Steve Goins (knee) in street clothes and junior forward Dino Gregory (suspension) not present at Comcast Center for the third contest in a row, Maryland Coach Gary Williams's options off the bench were significantly reduced. Between a lack of depth and a lack of offensive fluidity, Williams waited more than seven and a half minutes to insert his first substitutes.
"At times, it seemed like we were disorganized, but then we got it together and we started going after their zone defense," senior guard Greivis Vasquez said. "We just got to keep being tough and go hard."
For the second time in as many games, Vasquez struggled offensively. The team's leading returning scorer shot 3 of 11 from the field and tallied seven points. With Vasquez's shot off and the rest of the offense in disarray, Hayes played a large role in keeping Maryland composed amid an unforeseen early deficit.
Hayes "had just a certain toughness out there tonight," Williams said. "He's such a steady player that sometimes it gets overlooked, you know, what he's doing . . . He looked very calm when things weren't calm when he had the ball. He settled us down and got us into our offense."
Maryland went on a 15-0 run near the end of the half and led by eight at the intermission. The Terrapins opened the second half on a 12-4 run to all but put the game out of reach. Hayes said he realized late in the first half Fairfield's defensive strategy: Show zone until the first pass is made and then match up man-to-man. The ploy's effectiveness diminished as the game progressed. Maryland shot 43.1 percent from the field on the night.
"We just needed to take our time," said Landon Milbourne, who recorded 10 points and eight rebounds. "We were rushing a lot tonight. We didn't really run our offense all the way through so we could get easier shots. We forced a lot of shots, took a lot of unnecessary shots."
Hayes helped curb the Terrapins' offensive anxiousness with the serenity that has come to define his play. After being taken out of the starting lineup down the stretch last season, Hayes emerged as a potent scoring option off the bench and occasionally bailed Maryland out of offensive ruts such as the one it found itself in Tuesday night.
With six and a half minutes remaining against Fairfield, Hayes caught a transition pass, spun 360 degrees to avoid an oncoming defender and finished with a layup.
"I don't do it too often, but every now and then, when the opportunity comes up I can do something like that," Hayes said.
He was talking about his nifty fast-break score, though he might as well have been referring to his overall performance Tuesday.
"We'll have to see," Hayes continued. "If the opportunities come up, you might see it again."