Loss to Duke reveals Maryland's potential
A Cinderella team does not always have to be the most successful team in the conference. It rises from hardships, but it doesn't need to defeat the evil stepmother. A Cinderella team just needs to ruffle its stepmother's feathers a bit.
The Terrapins most definitely ruffled Duke's feathers at Comcast Center on Feb. 11, even though the latter came out of the game victoriously, 96-88. There certainly were times when Duke dominated, but Maryland still measured up to Duke's standards, especially in the game's final two minutes.
By the half, Duke had hit six three-pointers out of eleven attempts while Maryland had not made a single shot behind the three-point line. Maryland passed into the paint and went for the jumper whenever there was a golden opportunity for an easy three. Without fail, the Terps looked for Ekene Ibekwe, who usually turned over the ball or missed the easy shot.
The qualities that Maryland lacked would have been found in former captain Chris McCray. The team is still struggling to cope with losing their star player due to his academic ineligibility, yet Maryland pulled off a beautiful stunt. There were times when the team was clearly in league with Duke, answering the shots, forcing them to reconsider their game plan, but there were also times when the Terps just couldn't get a shot up.
The point guard issue is better with starting point guard D.J. Strawberry's improvement and point guards Parrish Brown and Sterling Ledbetter's energy, but between a lethargic seven-foot forward and an awkward center, Maryland is still lacking in the post. Duke has a strong inside and perimeter with team captains J.J. Redick and Sheldon Williams. If Maryland had these two characteristics, the Terps would have most certainly beaten their rivals. Instead, the Maryland strategy was for one of the nimble guards to jump in and grab the rebound. Maryland definitely played with heart, but, with certain areas that were lacking, it was not good enough against a team like Duke.
Duke's Redick was nicely challenged by Strawberry's suffocating and enthusiastic defense, which suppressed the senior's three-point binges at the beginning of the game. Maryland fought, but the times that they lagged clearly set them behind to a point where they just could not cut down the lead to less than 10 points until the final 30 seconds.
Perhaps some of this struggle can be attributed to Duke's two amazing freshmen. Josh McRoberts did not make a shot, but still contributed 12 rebounds to the team. Greg Paulus, the freshman point guard, finished with 16 points and seven assists, leading the team as though he had been there alongside Williams and Redick from the beginning. Not bad from a freshman.
Maryland lacks team cohesiveness especially without McCray, the glue that held the team together through tribulations. Teammates James Gist and Mike Jones have improved since McCray has left, but their progress is still not enough. During the game, the plays that the Terps executed were obviously well-practiced, but they were never altered when an opponent stood in the way. They were simply carried out, and opportunities for easy jumpers were missed. The team needs to be more confident on the floor and think quicker on its feet. Duke's players, on the other hand, are exceptionally knowledgeable of every teammate and motion that they each make. They have amazing team chemistry, which was lacking on the Maryland side.
The game against Duke shows the heart of the old Maryland teams that fans have been waiting to see all season. The game itself seems demonstrative of the Maryland season (except for the lack of a point guard) - the ups and downs and the lack of consistency, but there were spurts of greatness that the team needs to preserve for one more month. Maryland needs to win four of its remaining six games of the season in order to guarantee a spot in the NCAA tournament. Last year, Maryland did not qualify and the team's season ended at the National Invitational Tournament semifinals. If the Terps play as they did on Saturday, with more consistency and the same heart, they will do better in the NCAA tournament. The Terps are back in business.
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