Terps sharing the ball

Eric Hayes and the Terrapins rank first in the ACC in assists per game, dishing out 3.2 per game more than second-ranked Virginia.
Eric Hayes and the Terrapins rank first in the ACC in assists per game, dishing out 3.2 per game more than second-ranked Virginia. (Tracy A Woodward/the Washington Post)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In an ACC that possesses an abundance of front-court size this season, Maryland has stood out, in part, for its ability to compensate. The Terrapins cannot offer the post depth of many of their league counterparts, yet have managed to hold their own on the boards through movement and sheer effort.

Where Maryland has made up for its relative lack of size is in its offensive execution, which mostly has been precise thanks to the team's plethora of quality passers. The Terrapins rank first in the ACC in assists per game in conference play by a significant margin. The second-ranked team in that category, Virginia, averages 3.2 assists per game less than Maryland.

"When you play somebody that has the size that some of these teams in the league have, that's their advantage," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said Monday following his team's 85-66 win over the Cavaliers. "Our advantage probably is the way we pass the basketball."

On Wednesday, the Terrapins (17-7, 7-3) will play their third game in five days when they hit the road to take on North Carolina State (14-12, 2-9). When the two teams met on Jan. 23 at Comcast Center, Maryland prevailed by 24 points after three Terrapins registered at least four assists.

Williams has said he likes his three-guard lineup's chances any time it can notch around 18 assists in a game. The Terrapins have averaged 16.3 assists per game in ACC play. For the season, they have recorded assists on 56.2 percent of their made baskets.

"We've got a lot of guys who are capable of scoring, so if we're not sharing the ball, we're not running as high-powered [an] offense as we could be," said senior guard Eric Hayes, who ranks second in the ACC with a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play. "So I think having guys who are unselfish and like to pass the ball and want to see others get open shots, it's perfect for our offense."

The Terrapins controlled Monday's contest against Virginia from the start in large part because senior guard Greivis Vasquez could not be contained offensively. Vasquez tallied 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting in the first half, but he was set up on many of those baskets by precise passes from Hayes, who finished with a game-high nine assists.

Freshman forward Jordan Williams has exceeded the expectations of many observers thus far in his first collegiate campaign, ranking seventh in the ACC in rebounding in conference play (7.4 per game). Still, much of Williams's effort -- as well as that of senior forward Landon Milbourne and reserve junior forward Dino Gregory -- often is devoted to limiting the effectiveness of bigger opposing front-court players.

Frequently playing with a size disadvantage, the Terrapins rely on their ability to create quality looks off passes.

"We can't just throw it down on the block and let them go to work every possession, so we just learned to share the ball and when we're sharing the ball other people are getting involved besides Greivis," Hayes said. "It's just something that's a part of our game."

Maryland's 21-point loss at Duke on Saturday marked a rare occasion this season when the Terrapins' passes suffered from sloppiness. Maryland tallied 14 turnovers to just 10 assists against the Blue Devils.

But Monday night's win -- in which the Terrapins recorded 22 assists to 13 turnovers -- seemed to indicate that the performance at Duke was more aberration than impending trend.

"I just thought against Duke we came out too impatient," said Vasquez, who ranks second in the ACC with 6.4 assists per game in conference play. "Like, when we beat them my freshman year, everybody was playing together. I thought we really didn't do a good job [Saturday] the first half playing together. And that cost us the game. Now, today was just a different type of game. Everybody was trying to find each other."

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