Terps beat Houston: Gary Williams gets the “W” in my book

March 20, 2010 | Drew Forrester

The next time you want to take a swipe at Gary Williams, I suggest you replay Maryland’s Friday night’s NCAA tournament win over Houston.

One team was completely out of control, running up and down the court like they were trying to impress scouts at the NFL combine.  The other squad was masterfully aligned by their coach and played to their strengths for nearly the entire night.

If you’re a Gary Williams fan, you know what I’m talking about.

Williams employed the perfect strategy in Spokane on Friday night, dropping off of the Cougars, saving energy and watching Houston shoot themselves out of the tournament both from the floor and the free throw line.  The final score – 89-77 – really wasn’t indicative of how close the game COULD have been had Houston connected a few more times from the 3-point arc (4-for-17) and, more importantly, the foul line, where they were 20-of-32.  You can do the math…hit two more three-pointers and six more foul shots and you’re right there.

But Williams knew going in that Houston was going to shoot a lot.  And he also knew they weren’t very capable from the charity stripe.  And he definitely knew they had ZERO interest in defending.  So he used a more athletic line-up early on and was greatly rewarded with a strong effort from senior Landon Milbourne, who scored 19 points and finished the night with 7 rebounds.  Jordan Williams was the man of the night ON the court (21 points, 17 rebounds) but the other Williams – Gary – was the man of the night OFF the court as he pulled all the right strings while his counterpart, Houston’s Tom Penders, simply employed the “dance with who you brung” theory and allowed his team to run-and-gun as if they were getting hidden points everytime they went coast-to-coast within 5 seconds.

I saw enough of the track-meet to know the game was over with 2 minutes to play in the first half — and that’s before the Houston kid hit the fluke shot at the buzzer to pull the Cougars within two points at the intermission.  My FINAL tweet of the night (follow us on Twitter – we’re “WNST”) came when Maryland went ahead 39-32 after yet another loose ball floated in the air for about 1.5 seconds while no one from Houston pursued it and three Terps went up for it like they were Dennis Rodman.  I’d seen enough to grasp the fact that Houston didn’t KNOW how to win the game. And as I tweeted at that point:  “Ballgame.  Houston can’t defend.  Or won’t defend.  Terps win by 15.”  Turns out they only won by 12.  And it could have been 25.  Or it could have been 5.  The Cougars just didn’t want it badly enough.

Maryland has a better team than Houston, so Penders isn’t to blame for his team’s loss.

In fact, statistically, the game was MUCH closer than the final score would otherwise indicate.

But Gary Williams faced a dilemma all week.  How do you stop the Houston rock-star combo of Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis?  Answer: You don’t.  They’re going to get their points…and both did.  Coleman (26 pts) slashed and dashed his way through an impressive first half and probably made NBA scouts take notice of Grevis Vasquez’s lack of quickness in tight spaces with several bursts of speed and easy lay-ups.  But Coleman – and Lewis (24 pts) – and others can’t make every shot and that’s where Maryland gained the edge they need to win.

A Gary Williams team is tough.  They fight.  They have heart.

That Houston squad on Friday night?  Not so tough.  Good basketball players and all, but not a whole lot of diving-for-loose-balls goes on with that bunch.

And Williams simply kept Jordan Williams and Landon Milbourne down low and watched them collect 24 of his team’s 50 rebounds.

The more I watched the game, the more it dawned on me how much control Gary had over his kids and how much control Penders DIDN’T have on his kids.  Maryland’s game plan was obvious.  When you miss, go hard to the boards.  When you make, immediately retreat and set up in the defensive end.  When THEY miss, crash the boards again.  Save your energy.  No pressing.  No running around like like maniacs.

Smart basketball.  Play to your strengths.  Force the other team out of their element.  Maryland did them all on Friday night.

I assume Tom Penders went into the game and said, “OK, I can try and figure out a way to stop Jordan Williams down low…or I can just concede that I’m not going to be able to do that and I’ll just tell Aubrey and Kelvin to get us 100 points.”

Penders (and we all would have probably done the same thing) obviously went with “turn Aubrey and Kelvin loose” as his game theory.

Gary Williams welcomed that approach.  He not only expected it, but his plan was obviously perfect for stopping it.

Sometimes it takes a night like Friday to remind all of us how fortunate we are to have the Terps being led by Gary Williams.

And we should all start realizing how fortunate the team is to have the OTHER Williams too…you know, that Jordan kid.

He’s turned into a helluva player.

To go along with his namesake – a helluva coach.