Terps snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

March 03, 2008 |

So, I’m sitting on press row at Comcast Center, covering my mouth and saying under my breath
“what the hell is happening”, except that I threw in a few popular four letter expletives while I was muttering to myself. That’s what blowing a 20-point second half lead at home on “Senior Day” will do to you.   

How in the world did Maryland lose this game to a Clemson team who flat out stunk for 30 minutes?

Here’s my two cents from courtside. As is human nature, Maryland’s players took their foot off the gas pedal with a 59-39 lead. Turnovers (when, when, when will they cut down on the ridiculous number of turnovers each game?) and several defensive lapses let Clemson back in the game. 2-15 shooting from three point land and 57% from the charity stripe added to the collapse.

I’m a firm believer that games are won by the players on the court, not the coaches, but tonight I have to make an exception.

Gary Williams is a polarizing figure. There’s one group of people who believe that he saved a downtrodden Maryland program on the brink of disaster and took them to a National Championship, therefore he can do no wrong. There is another group who feels that Gary has coasted since wining the National Championship, stopped recruiting elite players and turned the Terps into a perennial NCAA tournament bubble team.

I am somewhere in between. I don’t view Gary Williams as a program savior by any means, but do think that he is a very good in-game coach. His 600+ career wins are a testament to that. I think his weakness has been in the “talent acquisition” department, which is another blog for another day.

With that said, I’m hanging this unacceptable loss on the head coach, not the players.

For the first time in a long time, Maryland’s bench players made a major contribution with 20 points, 10 boards and 4 blocks. During the last 11 or so minutes of the game when Maryland let the 20 point lead evaporate, Gary Williams left ineffective starters on the floor when he had bench players who were doing very well, gathering dust.  

Landon Milbourne was awful in all facets of the game, and couldn’t guard anyone. Cliff Tucker played very good defense while he was in the game, but rode the pine in crunch time while Clemson’s Terrence Oglesby (a freshman reserve) was lighting up Milbourne from the perimiter.

Bambale “boom” Osby had a bad game and could not guard Trevor Booker (a very good post player) down low. Jerome Burney (6 points, 3 rebounds and 4 blocked shots in 16 minutes) did a much better job guarding Booker than Osby. Where was Burney down the stretch? Sitting on the bench next to Cliff Tucker….

The Terps played tight at the end of the game and it was painfully obvious that Greivis Vasquez was the only player even remotely interested in trying to score. Why was Adrian Bowie (6 for 6 from the field for 12 points) on the bench late in the game? He certainly wasn’t afraid to take it to the hole, and played much better defense than Eric Hayes, who was repeatedly beaten off the dribble by Clemson’s guards.     

If Gary Williams was guilty of anything, it was being too loyal to his starting five, when three of them (Milbourne, Hayes and Osby) were being outplayed by their subs (see above).

One more thing… I love James Gist’s talent, but he just isn’t a clutch player. If you’re that talented, you plant your backside in the paint and demand the ball when the game’s on the line, not float out to the perimeter and watch others try to score.

This inexcusable home loss may be the pin that bursts the NCAA tournament bubble. How does Maryland come back from this?

I attended Gary Williams’ post game press conference, and in all fairness, he was very gracious. Obviously disappointed, but gracious. He’s coached a lot of games and has been on both sides of a result like this. I’m not sure how well a younger Gary Williams would have reacted to this loss.

The locker room was a morgue, naturally. I spoke to Landon Milbourne, whose voice was barely above a whisper. “Boom” Osby was searching for answers and Greivis Vasquez was almost at a loss for words.  Almost…

Comcast Center was packed (good to see) and filled with luminaries like Lefty Driesell, Buck Williams, Duane Simpkins, Tony Massenburg, Boomer Esiason, Scott Van Pelt from ESPN, Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti.  

How in the world did Maryland blow at 20 point second half lead at home to a sloppy Clemson team on “Senior Night”? I’ll be saying that to myself over and over as I head off to bed….