It was an entertaining and highly competitive game in Blacksburg, but it produced the tired final act we’ve seen too many times this season.
Despite plenty of opportunities, Maryland fell short against Virginia Tech, 91-83, on Tuesday night, downgrading the Terps’ faint NCAA tournament hopes from life support to a virtual flatline with five games remaining in the regular season.
Dropping to 5-6 in the conference and being swept by a third ACC team — the Hokies joining Duke and Boston College as schools with two wins over Maryland — simply won’t garner any deserved consideration for the tournament in a down year for the ACC.
Barring a miraculous finish unseen since the Terps’ ACC tournament championship in 2004, Maryland will find itself playing in the NIT for the first time since 2008 when current seniors Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, and Dino Gregory were finishing their freshman year.
As deflating as that reality is in the middle of February, a tiny beacon of hope shined at Cassell Coliseum with the impressive performance of freshman Terrell Stoglin. The shifty guard scored a career-high 25 points — 15 coming before intermission after the Terps had fallen behind by 10 points early in the half — and handed out six assists, a few being highlight-reel material.
Stoglin can be both exhilarating and frustrating depending on the possession, but there’s no denying his talent or fortitude, even if it amounts to ill-advised drives or forced shots as we saw a few times in the second half.
With the emergence of Stoglin and Pe’Shon Howard (making his fourth consecutive start), it’s time for Gary Williams to go with his best options in the backcourt, both in the present and future. The two kids should be on the floor together whenever possible. We’ve seen it more frequently over the last two weeks, but there’s no point in holding back with only a handful of games remaining.
Williams has always been loyal to his upperclassmen throughout his coaching career, but we know the book on Bowie and Tucker.
Decent role players who can help your team in spurts, but not the type of players you can count on consistently. Both are accustomed to coming off the bench and will still see plenty of minutes in reserve roles — as Tucker has already done most of the year — but not at the expense of the two freshmen.
If Tuesday night was any indication, we can expect to see more of the freshmen playing together as the Terps wind down the regular season and await their humbling postseason fate. Howard and Stoglin combined for 58 minutes while Bowie played just 11 despite starting the game. Though Tucker played 27 minutes, he failed to score in the final 20 minutes after scoring 10 points before halftime.
No one knows how good Howard and Stoglin can be — especially playing together — but they give Maryland just as much chance to win as Bowie and Tucker. The Terps haven’t been good enough against the better teams on their schedule all season, so why not allow the two kids to grow together over this final stretch of the regular season and into the ACC tournament and NIT?
It should give Williams a clearer picture entering next season when Howard and Stoglin are joined in the backcourt picture by two more freshmen in Sterling Gibbs and City’s Nick Faust.
At best, the Terps gain momentum with a new lineup heading into the postseason and wind up surprising a few teams.
At worst, Maryland continues to lose games to the superior teams on its schedule.
As the curtain continues to fall on Maryland’s NCAA tournament aspirations, it’s time to promote both young understudies to the lead roles in the backcourt.
And then hope for the best.
It’s all the Terps can really do at this point.