Big win over feeble foe gives Maryland a confidence boost

Greivis Vasquez finishes two rebounds shy of a triple-double, tallying a game-high 27 points while dishing out 11 assists.
Greivis Vasquez finishes two rebounds shy of a triple-double, tallying a game-high 27 points while dishing out 11 assists. (Gail Burton/associated Press)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The stream of consciousness that had tormented junior guard Cliff Tucker for so long ceased the moment his first shot fell through the net Tuesday night at Comcast Center. All of it -- the constant fret of the consequences one mistake might induce, the persistent worry about how long his stint on the court would last, the ever-present insecurity that a short leash and lack of playing time might mean he's not good enough -- evaporated with one flick of the wrist.

Maryland put away Winston-Salem State, 98-55, to improve to 7-3, but against an opponent not long for life at the Division I level, the final score was not as important as the manner in which it was attained. Confidence was the currency of choice against an inferior Rams squad, and by the end of the night several Terrapins in need were much richer for their efforts.

Tucker made all five of his attempts from the field and finished with a season-high 13 points off the bench. He provided a spark when his team needed one, and his focus did not wane as the game progressed. Tucker said his effort was the product of a renewed attitude toward the value of persistence.

"Last year in practice I really didn't have a good attitude," Tucker said. "When I thought I wasn't going to play I really didn't take practice seriously. So this week I was motivated to practice. I actually wanted to practice. You know, I played hard against the [starters] and just did well, so that paid off for me tonight."

Indeed, Tucker went through similar confidence struggles last season during stretches when he was not afforded the playing time he felt he had earned. He would reveal glimpses of his talent, recording breakout games against North Carolina, the eventual national champion. But consistency was not his forte.

Again this season, Tucker's playing time waned. He shot the ball well, but often did not possess the self-assurance to find what Coach Gary Williams called "his shot."

When Tucker entered the game Tuesday night in the middle of the first half, the Terrapins held just a three-point lead. Maryland's defense -- a point of emphasis during the team's recent 10-day break from its game schedule -- still was not clicking, and its offense appeared out of sync after a hot start.

After Winston-Salem State tied the game, Tucker answered with a three-pointer of his own. Junior guard Adrian Bowie hit a three on the next possession, and Greivis Vasquez followed suit on the possession after that. Four minutes after Tucker scored his first points, Maryland led by 11 and Tucker had tallied eight points.

"I was just playing, just not worrying about anything," Tucker said. "I think a lot of times when I get in the game, you know, I'm worried about not making a mistake or I'm thinking I'm going to come out, or I'm worrying about how many minutes I'm going to play. I just got into the game today and didn't worry about anything. Fortunately enough for me, I was hitting a lot of shots."

By night's end, the same could be said for many of Tucker's teammates as well. Maryland shot 66.7 percent (12 of 18) from beyond the arc. Vasquez finished with a game-high 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting. He also recorded 11 assists and eight rebounds.

Much like Tucker, Bowie also had been struggling with his shot and his psyche entering the matchup against the Rams. But he responded by hitting three shots from beyond the arc to finish with nine points off the bench.

"When I knocked down the first shot, everything just started to feel a lot better for me," Bowie said. "I went on from there."

His teammates followed suit. Maryland led by 12 at the intermission and spent nearly all of the second half flexing its collective muscle. Tucker, who had played 13 minutes in the previous three games, registered 17 minutes against the Rams.

"It's there," Williams said. "You just have to figure it out, and I think tonight was a big step for Cliff. You know, he wasn't getting that many minutes, but, you know, off of tonight you look at next game and we have to figure out a way to get him out there."

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