Time running out for Maryland's Cliff Tucker

Terps need big performance from senior in ACC tournament

March 09, 2011|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

GREENSBORO, N.C. — — The Cliff Tucker Maryland needs in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament is the one who scored 22 points in a win over No. 5 North Carolina in 2009, or who rained down a buzzer-beater to defeat Georgia Tech last season. The Terrapins need the Tucker who doesn't brood.

The interesting part about Tucker's final-second shot — it was the most memorable of his career — is there was no time to think. That's key for the senior, who conceded Wednesday that he tends to ponder and pout when not getting the playing time he believes he deserves.

Tucker, averaging 9.5 points, hasn't scored in double digits in the past five games heading into Thursday's ACC tournament opener against 10th-seeded North Carolina State. The swingman's contributions may be needed if seventh-seeded Maryland (18-13, 7-9 ACC) is to end a three-game losing streak that has all but extinguished its hopes for an NCAA tournament bid.

"Cliff's had games where he's been the best player on the floor," Maryland coach Gary Williams said after the Terps practiced Wednesday at Greensboro Coliseum. "We need him to really step up and do that in the tournament."

Williams' primary mission is to get the Terps to believe in themselves again after consecutive losses to North Carolina, Miami and Virginia to end the regular season. "I'm just trying to keep them up. Anything can happen. If you win the first one, there's a snowball effect that can happen," Williams said.

Tucker, who was recruited from El Paso, Texas, has averaged five points and 17 minutes in the three defeats.

Tucker could use advice from Crash Davis, the fictional catcher in "Bull Durham."

"Don't think. You can only hurt the ball club," Davis tells Nuke LaLoosh in the 1988 film.

Wearing practice clothes, Tucker sat in Maryland's cramped locker room at the coliseum Wednesday and — in his slight Texas twang — assessed what has gone wrong.

"I'm just trying to get back to my old self," Tucker said. "I've been struggling the last month or so. This could be my breakout tournament."

He scored in double digits in eight of nine games during a stretch ending with a win at Virginia on Jan. 27. The period included a 21-point game on his 22nd birthday in a victory over Wake Forest on Jan. 12.

But Tucker hasn't quite been the same since, and has been a starter only sporadically.

"I'm not going to lie. I kind of got back to my old pouting and that hurt my game. When I come out of a game, I can't get upset," he said. "I can't play if I'm thinking, 'Is the coach going to take me out?' or 'Am I going to start?'"

Co-captain Dino Gregory said Tucker realizes the importance of playing well here. It's the final ACC tournament for the seniors: Gregory, Tucker and Adrian Bowie. Maryland, which will meet second-seeded Duke Friday night if it beats the Wolfpack, would probably need to win the tournament to secure an NCAA berth.

"I think Cliff is coming back to his old self," Gregory said.

Notes: Maryland beat N.C. State (15-15, 5-11 ACC) 87-80 on Feb. 20, but was burned early by the 3-point shooting of Wolfpack sophomore forward Scott Wood, who scored 15 points. Maryland's Jordan Williams scored 26 points, one shy of his career high. ... The Terps have made nine tournament finals appearances and last won it in 2004. … Maryland held a closed workout at a nearby college, then had an open practice at the coliseum. The practice was capped by Berend Weijs banking in a shot from halfcourt.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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