Maryland basketball has only 'warning-track power'

Maryland's Dino Gregory is one of three seniors on the team.
Maryland's Dino Gregory is one of three seniors on the team. (AP)
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Thursday, February 17, 2011; 12:08 AM

With 12 minutes 4 seconds left in Virginia Tech's critical ACC game against Maryland on Tuesday night, the Hokies' Jeff Allen shook free for a dunk that evened the score at 61.

After Allen's dunk sent the Cassell Coliseum crowd into a frenzy, Maryland, which hadn't trailed at any point in the second half, patiently worked the ball around the perimeter until Jordan Williams flashed into the post calling for the ball. As soon as he caught the pass into the post, he was double-teamed. Recognizing the defense collapsing on him, Williams quickly pitched the ball back to Cliff Tucker, who was wide open at the three-point line.

Tucker caught the ball in his shooting motion, released the shot smoothly and . . . missed.

As soon as the shot clanged off the rim and Virginia Tech grabbed the rebound, Raycom analyst Dan Bonner, watching Tucker run back downcourt on defense, hit the button that allowed him to talk to the TV truck. "Do you have a shot of Tucker after that miss?" he said off-air to producer Rob Reichley. "I think we just saw Maryland's season in microcosm on that play."

Wednesday morning, Bonner explained why he thought that moment was so significant. "I'm not saying it decided the game, because it didn't," he said. "But it was a key moment. Maryland needed to calm the crowd with a basket and they did everything right. Except they couldn't make the shot. That's been their season: always close against good teams but never ahead at the end.

"They have warning-track power."

That may be the perfect description of this Maryland team, and the 91-83 loss to Virginia Tech was another example. The Terrapins got an outstanding game from freshman Terrell Stoglin and a good one from fellow freshman guard Pe'shon Howard. But the upperclassmen struggled, notably seniors Tucker and Adrian Bowie and junior Sean Mosley.

Maryland has been in every game it has played - with the exception of last month's home loss to Virginia Tech - until the final minutes. The Terrapins have had multiple chances to beat quality teams. And, as of this moment, they haven't hit the ball out of the ballpark.

"You knew going in you were going to have ups and downs," Coach Gary Williams said Wednesday morning. "You lose the three seniors we lost [Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne] and you know your freshmen are going to have to contribute and you know it isn't going to be easy.

"Last night we played hard. We played well enough to win. But Virginia Tech got nine offensive rebounds in the second half and we got none. That isn't good enough. So you know what we have to do now? We have to try to beat N.C. State on Sunday. You know what we'd be doing today if we'd won? We'd be trying to beat N.C. State on Sunday."

Williams knows a lot of people are writing off his team at 16-10, 5-6 in the ACC. This has become familiar February turf for him in recent years. From 1994 to 2004, a span in which Maryland made 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances, the Terrapins spent most of February playing for seeding, not for a spot in the bracket.

But in five of the last seven seasons, Maryland has found itself on uncertain NCAA tournament ground in February.

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