COLLEGE PARK - It was something of a mystery who was going to start alongside Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes in the backcourt for Maryland in its season opener last night against Bucknell at Comcast Center.
After what Cliff Tucker did when no one else seemed able to in a sloppy beginning to the 2008-09 season - shoot - it might not come as a shock if the 6-foot-6 sophomore from Texas stays in the lineup for a while.
Tucker helped the Terps go from ice cold to merely tepid, build their lead to 18 points in the opening half despite hitting barely more than a third of their shots, and pull away for an 81-52 victory.
"He's a much more mature player this year," Maryland coach Gary Williams said of Tucker. "Cliff went from playing in a not real tough league [in El Paso] to playing ACC basketball. That's tough to do."
Showing that he has added some shooting touch to his athletic repertoire, Tucker finished with 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field. Junior forward Landon Milbourne led the Terps with 16 points, while Vasquez scored 13 to go along with six rebounds and six assists. However, he shot 5-for-16 from the field. Sophomore guard Adrian Bowie added 12 points in a reserve role.
After looking sharp in its execution and shooting against a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics team last Saturday, Maryland was neither last night. The Terps missed their first eight shots, 20 of their first 27 and 23 of 36 in the first half. Maryland finished 30-for-70, including 5-for-15 on threes.
"We were very impatient. We took some forced shots," Williams said. "I think we were in a hurry to score. That's what happens off the Northwood game when you score a lot early. We're learning on the fly here."
It certainly helped that Bucknell shot the ball worse than Maryland, early and throughout. The Bison missed 14 of their first 15 shots, 21 of 28 in the first half and 41 of 60 for the game. Senior guard Justin Castleberry (Archbishop Spalding) was 1-for-10.
"In the second half, we had the game pretty well at hand. You have to play like every possession is important because this time of year, you're still working on some things," Williams said. "You win by 29 and you see some good things you can work on the next couple of days."
Maryland plays again Tuesday night at home against Youngstown State.
One of those things is trying to straighten out the frontcourt situation.
Sophomore Braxton Dupree started with the four perimeter players and had six points and six rebounds in 16 minutes, but he struggled defensively. Sophomore Jerome Burney had only two rebounds and one block in his 10-minute stint despite being the tallest player on the floor.
At one point, Williams got so frustrated with Dupree that he subbed him out less than a minute into the second half. His replacement, senior Dave Neal, also had six points and six rebounds in 16 minutes but played with a lot more aggressiveness.
"We need to have an inside presence, especially on the defense end of the court," Williams said. "I thought the ball got to the rim a little bit too easy tonight."
The Terps also got to the basket as the game went on, especially Tucker. The nervousness that he seemed to play with as a freshman was gone.
"Coach talked to me a lot this year that I need to step up more this year," said Tucker, who averaged a shade over four points per game as a freshman. "Last year, I was a little too passive and I was a little too nervous. Sophomore year is when you're supposed to improve the most."
YOUNGSTOWN STATE (0-0) @MARYLAND (1-0 )
Tuesday, 8 p.m.
Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM