Gary and Terps squander golden opportunity

March 21, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Gary Williams will always look at this one and ponder what might have been.

With Kansas and Georgetown both eliminated and upstart Northern Iowa looming next Friday night in St. Louis, all the Terps had to do was dispose of pesky – and undermanned – Michigan State on Sunday afternoon to reach the Sweet 16.

Williams won’t be heading to St. Louis after all, as he and the Terps squandered their golden opportunity on Sunday.

Gary will need to look at himself, first, and then go through today’s loss to Michigan State with a fine tooth comb to figure why his team once again came out lethargic en route to a crushing 85-83 loss to the Spartans that ended Maryland’s season.

That Maryland actually had a chance to win at the end of the game was a fluke.  Michigan State’s roster was decimated with injuries and in the final two minutes of the game, they had four players from their bench on the floor.  And none of them – those four, anyway – had any idea what they were doing with the basketball in the game’s waning moments, which is how the Terps positioned themselves to win in the most unlikely of ways.

That is, until Korie Lucious canned a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave Michigan State the win and sent the Terps home on the first weekend of the tournament for the 4th straight time.

Some players and coaches pick up the tag “can’t win the big one”.  For Gary Williams, it’s become “can’t win the 2nd one”.

There will be a lot of questions and some fallout from this loss to the Spartans, although it can’t diminish the phenomenal senior season for Greivis Vasquez and the 13-3 regular season record in the ACC.

Some of the questions will be directed at Williams.  As the coach, he has to answer things like:

> In the same fashion they did at the ACC tourney opener vs. Georgia Tech, how can the Terps come out sleepwalking in the game’s first 10 minutes against Michigan State?  Gary and his staff were supposedly bristling at the 11:30 am local time start…and that does seem a tad early to start a game, admittedly – but the Spartans clearly got their wake up call in time, racing out to an early 20-10 lead and holding on to a 48-39 advantage at halftime.

> Michigan State started the game hitting on all cylinders.  For most of the first half, they shot roughly 50% from the floor.  Halfway through, they were 10-of-18 shooting.  That would beg the question:  Why not go to a zone there and try to get the Spartans off their shooting high?  Williams stayed with his basic defense, although at times he did have Jordan Williams come out a little higher to try and create a height problem on the red-hot MSU shooters.

> I assume Eric Hayes’ half-hearted effort on a late drive to the hoop that put Michigan State ahead earned him a trip on the bench for the final possession.  If so, that explains why Adrian Bowie was on the floor for the game-winning 3-pointer.  If not, that questioned needs to be answered as well.  Why WAS Bowie on the floor at the end of the game?

There are plenty of other little nitpicky things that go on in every game that probably CAN’T be answered, but those are the things that stand out to me in review of today’s heartbreaking loss.

How could Maryland come out that lazy and uninterested?

Why not change up the defense a little bit when it was obvious Michigan State was on a shooting tear?

And was the late ole’ defensive effort from Hayes the reason he wasn’t on the floor at the end?

There WAS plenty of good, though, and most of it centered on the things it always centers on with Maryland.  Vasquez, heart, never-say-die, more Vasquez, and more heart.  The Terps NEVER gave up on Sunday, mainly because they could smell the Spartans’ blood oozing out of their bodies with every trip down the floor.

As it turns out, if that game is 41 minutes instead of 40, Maryland wins by 5.

Michigan State was dead man walking the last two minutes.  Tom Izzo won’t say it publicly, because it would probably come across too much like a major swipe at Gary Williams, but it’s a MIRACLE he won that game with the lineup he had out on the floor in minutes 38 and 39.

The Terps will suffer a little next season with the departure of Vasquez and Hayes, but they have a decent chance of being very competitive again next year due mainly to Jordan Williams.  Oddly, he’s started his college career the exact opposite of most big men.  Most 7-footers come in and can defend like the dickens but can’t figure out how to contribute offensively.  Williams is a smart, heady, curiously stylish offensive player and a guy still learning how to defend people in front of him.  When he figures out positioning and using his body to urge players AWAY from the basket, he’s going to be a rock star of Steven Tyler proportions.  The kid is All-ACC waiting to happen and I’m willing to bet right now if he sticks around for four years he’ll play for the right to go to the Final Four someday down the road.

Gary – as he does better than anyone – will fill in the pieces around Williams next year and come back with another competitive campaign.  You can make book on that.

But on Sunday, Gary’s team squandered a great chance to make some real noise in this year’s tournament.  I’m sure he’d never say it to the masses – “counting your chickens before they hatch” and what not – but Williams had to be thinking about restaurants in Indianapolis when he saw the Kansas stunner at the hands of Northern Iowa on Saturday afternoon.

They’ll be back, the Terps will, but the one that got away in Spokane is going to hurt for a long time.

Chances like that – with players like Vasquez, Hayes and Milbourne in tow – don’t come around very often.