Terps get chance to put Greensboro snooze-fest behind them

March 15, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland Terrapins let out a loud roar Sunday night at Comcast Center when they learned they would be facing Houston in the Midwest Region of the NCAA tournament.

The Terps, the No. 4 seed, against the No. 13 Cougars - yeah, that was worth a few cheers and high-fives in the team meeting room.

You only hope they're that fired up when they tip off against the Cougars on Friday in Spokane, Wash.

I say that because the biggest mystery facing the Terps right now is this: Why were they so flat in the first half of their disappointing 69-64 loss to Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament?

How could a team riding a seven-game winning streak, a team that looked so good and played so hard during that stretch, sleepwalk through much of the first 20 minutes in a tournament they really wanted to win?

And the answer you got from the Terps on Selection Sunday was essentially: Um, we're not sure.

But they had better figure out what went wrong - and fast - if they don't want the same thing to happen against Houston, which is just 19-15 and in weak-sister Conference USA, the kind of so-so team better teams tend to take lightly.

If you watched that ugly first half against Georgia Tech, you know the Yellow Jackets led by as many as 19 points as the Terps stumbled and fumbled their way around the court at Greensboro Coliseum.

At halftime, Maryland trailed 41-25, prompting Greivis Vasquez to say after the game that the Terps were "embarrassed" when they left the floor at intermission.

"We weren't going hard," said Vasquez, who finished with 17 points but shot just 6-for-21 and seemed lost at times. "I don't think [the Yellow Jackets] were doing anything defensively. We were passive."

Said Maryland coach Gary Williams: "We weren't emotionally ready."

OK, fine. But why weren't they going hard?

Why were they so passive in that first half?

And why weren't they emotionally ready, seeing as how they're coached by a guy who's wired full-tilt for basketball the minute he gets out of bed in the morning?

No one on Maryland seems quite sure.

But forward Landon Milbourne said it'll be up to him and fellow seniors Vasquez and Eric Hayes to make sure it doesn't happen again against Houston.

"I think for us, if we start out real aggressive on defense, that's usually how we get going," said Milbourne, who had a solid game against Georgia Tech with 15 points, six rebounds and five steals. "I think we'll be emphasizing that all week in practice."

Williams was in no mood to relive the horrors of the Georgia Tech game after his team had made the Big Dance for the 14th time in his 21 years at Maryland.

But two different theories have been kicked around to explain Maryland's slow start against Georgia Tech.

The first says the Terps had too long a layoff before the start of the ACC tournament, throwing off their rhythm on offense and throwing them out of sync defensively.

The second theory is that they were still emotionally exhausted from that wild stretch of seven wins that closed out the season and shot them up to No. 19 in the national rankings.

Me, I go with the long-layoff theory, even though the Terps mounted that furious second-half comeback against Georgia Tech that got them back into the game, thanks mainly to a trapping full-court press.

And with an even longer layoff looming before them now - a full seven days - Williams needs to find a way to make sure his team stays focused and intense all week.

Oh, it should be a fun week of practice.

They'll probably be able to hear Gary screaming at his players all the way up in Spokane.

The Terps didn't seem to know a whole lot about Houston on Sunday night - Williams said he'll be watching a lot of tape of the Cougars over the coming days.

But for now, the Terps know Houston has a sensational 6-foot-4 senior guard named Aubrey Coleman who is only the top scorer in the country, averaging 25.5 points a game.

And the Cougars' defense ranks No. 2 in the whole country in causing turnovers, which could cause problems if the Terps are as sloppy with their ball-handling as they were at times against Georgia Tech.

Maybe that's all they need to know right now.

Maybe it just comes down to this for the Terps: Practice like demons all week, fly to Spokane and play hard from the opening tip-off.

It's March Madness, a whole new season.

Sixty-five teams get a new life. What more can the Terps ask for?

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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