Terps, set to honor Vasquez, still haven't learned how to win close ones

Fiery guard who pushed many a Maryland team to close wins will be lauded prior to game against N.C. State

February 19, 2011|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — — There is a revealing statistic about last season's Maryland team, which tied eventual national champion Duke atop the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season standings.

Like this year's team, the 2009-10 Terps played in plenty of close conference games. The difference is, they usually won them. From Feb. 4, 2010, until the end of the regular-season schedule, Maryland played seven games decided by single digits. The Terps — led by the animated, ultra-competitive Greivis Vasquez, who returns to Comcast Center to be honored at Sunday's N.C. State game — won all seven.

In stark contrast, this year's team is drowning in single-digit defeats. It enters Sunday's contest 2-8 in games decided by fewer than 10 points. That includes the last two losses — to Boston College and Virginia Tech, respectively — that have left Maryland in a precarious position as its vies for an NCAA tournament bid.

The good news for Maryland (16-10, 5-6 ACC) is that it has usually played top teams close. But the inescapable conclusion is that while the Terps may know how to play, they're still learning how to win.

"We were close to all those teams," said sophomore center Jordan Williams, whose team has endured single-digit defeats to Duke, Pitt, Villanova, Temple and Illinois — all nationally-ranked this season at one time.

"Terps fight hard, fall short" — which was this newspaper's headline following the 80-76 loss to Illinois on Nov. 19 — could be the epitaph for the season so far.

The harrowing losses have left players in a constant state of searching for answers. "(It's) a loose ball here, a free throw there," Jordan Williams said Saturday. "I guess it just goes along with being a young team."

The center's frustration was evident when he was asked for an explanation following a blown 12-point lead in a 74-66 defeat against Villanova on Jan. 15.

"If I knew that, I'd probably be a head coach right now," he responded with a hint of exasperation.

Free throws were clearly a culprit earlier in the season. Consider the first Boston College defeat, in which Maryland lost a late lead and went 0-for-3 from the line in the final moments.

"Early in the year it was our foul shooting that really hurt us," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "It breaks our momentum."

In Tuesday night's Virginia Tech loss, it was something different. The Terps missed a few layups and struggled to box out the Hokies, who had a dozen offensive boards.

The Terps may have seen such issues coming after the departures of senior starters Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne following last season.

Freshman guards Terrell Stoglin and Pe'Shon Howard have both improved of late and are being relied upon increasingly at the end of games. "Both Pe'Shon and Terrell did very well against Virginia Tech," Gary Williams said. "I was very encouraged by the way they played."

But they're still learning.

Under Vasquez and Hayes, Maryland's backcourt seemed to have command of games at the finish. Hayes was a top 3-point shooter, while Vasquez was creative in the open court and could create shots for himself or others. Vasquez was the first ACC player to reach 2,000 points, 700 assists and 600 rebounds.

"Greivis did things you can't really teach," said Jordan Williams, who has been spending time with Vasquez this weekend.

Vasquez, now with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, roomed with Williams last season on the road. Vasquez's number won't be removed from circulation Sunday — Maryland doesn't officially retire numbers — but his name and No. 21 are to be raised to the rafters.

Vasquez has been encouraging the team, telling them to be resilient.

"It's great to have him back. He's a good friend now," Gary Williams said.

The coach was asked so many questions about Vasquez during Saturday's media availability that he decided to remind reporters of a critical fact.

"Greivis isn't going to play Sunday," he said.

Notes: N.C State (14-11, 4-7 ACC) had lost four in a row before defeating Wake Forest and Clemson in the last two games. The Wolfpack, which starts two freshman guards, is led by senior forward Tracy Smith (14.3 points per game).

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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