Given the Terps’ past struggles in Charlottesville and the snow-challenged, six-hour trek they experienced just getting there Wednesday night, you can understand fans’ trepidation entering Thursday’s contest at John Paul Jones Arena.
On top of that, if you were told Jordan Williams would be held to just four points and six rebounds — snapping his school record of 13 consecutive double-doubles — you might have said a 24-point victory would have been more likely for the home Cavaliers than visiting Maryland.
However, seniors Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker combined for 35 points and the Terps used a dominating second half on their way to a 66-42 blowout win over Virginia as Maryland (13-7, 3-3) evened its mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The win marks the Terps’ largest margin of victory ever in Charlottesville
Despite a commendable effort by seven-footer Assane Sene and the Cavaliers defense to stifle Williams, the Terps looked to their seniors to pick up the offensive slack, and that’s exactly what they did. Bowie’s season-best 22 points were one shy of his career high, and Tucker’s 13 marked the eighth time in nine games the sixth man has reached double-digit scoring. Their efforts were more than enough to overwhelm the offensively-challenged Cavaliers, who have now dropped four of their last five and clearly miss the leadership and scoring of forward Mike Scott (gone for the season with an ankle injury).
Maryland went 7-for-15 from beyond the arc, continuing the sharp shooting it discovered in Saturday’s win over Clemson, and outscored the Cavaliers by 19 points in the second half while holding them to 32.7 percent shooting on the night.
Freshmen point guards Terrell Stoglin and Pe’Shon Howard turned in strong performances in the victory as the pair combined for 16 points, seven assists, and only one turnover, looking comfortable running the offense throughout the night.
Only a week ago, Gary Williams challenged his seniors following an embarrassing home loss to Virginia Tech, emphasizing the need for leadership and to complement Jordan Williams’ offensive contributions. If the last two games are any indication, it’s safe to say Bowie, Tucker, and Dino Gregory (eight points and five rebounds) heard the message loud and clear.
Of course, no one should get too excited with a blowout victory over unimpressive Virginia, but 24-point road victories are few and far between in the ACC (unless you’re playing Wake Forest, who might go down this year as one of the worst teams in the long history of the conference). The Terps cannot earn their way to an NCAA tournament berth with any one victory — though a win over No. 3 Duke would be a major star for their nondescript profile — but this team needs to take notes from last season’s regular season co-champions.
And that lesson is winning the games you’re supposed to, a feat taken for granted but one that allowed the 2009-10 team to lock up an NCAA tournament bid without having a signature non-conference win.
Clearly, this year’s team lacks the experience and talent to approach the 13-3 conference record that Greivis Vasquez and company achieved a year ago, but Maryland — and the rest of what looks like a mediocre pool of ACC teams behind Duke — has given no indication that it can’t be one of the top four or five teams in the conference. A favorable schedule that includes second meetings with Virginia and Wake Forest gives the Terrapins an opportunity to stack more wins and move closer to the 10-6 mark that would likely be enough to secure a tournament bid.
The margin for error is small, especially after home losses to Boston College and Virginia Tech, and road wins over schools like Virginia and Georgia Tech — who the Terps play Sunday night to conclude a two-game road trip — are an absolute must.
With next Wednesday’s home rematch with Duke on the horizon, the Terps must handle business in Atlanta against the Yellow Jackets (10-9), whose 3-3 conference record includes blowout wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech. If the Terps have real aspirations of playing meaningful games in the middle of March, they will get by Georgia Tech, a team who lost at Virginia last weekend and fell to Kennesaw State and Siena earlier in the season.
For Maryland’s two-game winning streak to turn into the roll it needs for the season’s final six weeks, the increased contributions from the three seniors need to continue after Williams bounces back from his quietest performance of the season.
The Terps still haven’t put it all together, but emphatically exorcising the demons in Charlottesville shouldn’t be ignored completely.
If the last two games are any indication of what we can expect in February, an invitation to the NCAA tournament is still very much within reach for the Terps.