COLLEGE PARK, Md. — It seemed fitting that the University of Maryland would hang the No. 21 jersey of Greivis Vasquez in the Comcast Center rafters during a season where the entire program faces adversity.
Fitting of course because “adversity” could have easily been Vasquez’s middle name during the four seasons he patrolled the floor for the Terrapins before being selected in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies.
It was much too easy to point out coming into Maryland’s Sunday night tilt with North Carolina State that Gary Williams’ team was still looking for a way to replace Vasquez’s production on the floor and more importantly his leadership on and off the court. It seemed to be the biggest reason why the Terps entered Sunday in imminent danger of having their NCAA Tournament bubble hopes completely burst.
Greivis Vasquez came to Comcast Center Sunday night with a Maryland team facing significant adversity. It was a familiar script.
The difference Sunday for Vasquez was that he had to remain in his seat as the Terps faced a second-half deficit against the Wolfpack. Instead of personally carrying the team on his shoulders through a time of adversity, the “Vivacious Venezuelan” would simply have to watch from his seat to see if one of Maryland’s young guards could carry the team to only their third victory of the season in games decided by a single-digit difference.
Had freshman Terrell Stoglin not stepped up, arena officials may have had to use force to keep Vasquez off the floor.
Stoglin was fantastic for Maryland, scoring 25 points (matching a career high he posted just five days earlier in a loss at Virginia Tech), dishing nine assists and turning the ball over just once as Maryland (17-10, 6-6 ACC) held on for an 87-80 win over NC State (14-12, 4-8).
The win doesn’t get them much closer to the NCAA Tournament, but it at least kept them from burying their hopes altogether.
After being inserted to the starting lineup alongside fellow freshman guard Pe’Shon Howard for the first time all season, the young man from Tucson, Arizona may have well taken a mighty step towards replacing the Under Armours of Vasquez. It started with advice he received when his team faced a 40-38 deficit at halftime.
“I just wanted to push the ball and go, but coach told me to calm down and just stay within our offense” said Stoglin. “That’s what we did and that’s when we came back to take the lead.”
Stoglin was particularly impressive in the second frame, scoring 18 of his 25 points after intermission to go with four more assists and no turnovers. He admitted finding inspiration in the pregame ceremony honoring Vasquez.
“When I saw his jersey number go up there, I thought to myself, ‘Man, that’s what I want.'”
Stoglin is a long way from being remembered with the likes of Vasquez, Steve Blake, Lonny Baxter, Juan Dixon, Keith Booth, Len Elmore, Len Bias and the nine other men who have been honored in such a way just 27 games into his collegiate career. But performances like the one he put together Sunday night are at least reminiscent of some put together by Vasquez.
When the game was on the line, Vasquez came through. Stoglin was aware of that trait when asked what he most admired about the newest Terp to have his jersey honored.
“Honestly? His heart. He wasn’t the most athletic, most talented person but he had heart and I respect that a lot.”
Tying a career high in points and reaching a career high in assists in a potential bubble-eliminating game that was tied with 5:20 to play?
I’d say that qualifies as showing heart.
Williams noticed Stoglin’s performance, but admitted there was one area in particular where the freshman still needed to improve.
“Terrell thinks the green light is always green. He’s never seen a red light.”
The coach would go on to add of his 6-foot-1 freshman: “He’s going to make some mistakes once in a while in terms of shot selection, but what he gives you is someone who wants to be out there and really likes the competition. He really enjoys playing. He’s a tough little guy, and it’s great to see him advance during his freshman year.”
If you take out the word “little”, does it sound like something you heard Williams say about Vasquez?
“It’s the great competitor that thinks he can score against anybody,” Williams added about Stoglin. “You gotta channel that a little bit because you’re going against good people now, and see where it’s best for you to pick your spots. I thought he took two bad shots the whole day, and he scored 25 points. So I’ll take two bad shots for 25 points.”
Williams thought the comparison to Vasquez was fair.
“Greivis gradually came along to where he realized he had to be a leader. That’s what I think changed his game more than anything else was knowing that he had to get people (like) Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes involved in the game. That’s what moved Greivis up to the level where he could play in the NBA.”
For his part, Vasquez was happy to see Stoglin and Howard both in the starting lineup.
“That’s great,” said Vasquez. “That puts a lot of pressure on the upperclassmen. They’ve got to take it as ‘if these guys as freshmen are playing hard, now we’ve got to wake up.'”
It’s not worth getting too carried away about a game against NC State, but 50 points in two games is enough of a statement that it cannot be totally ignored.
Maryland has a long way to go to reach the NCAA Tournament, likely needing to start with wins against Florida State and North Carolina this week to have any hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
But the emergence of Stoglin alongside the continued dominance of sophomore big man Jordan Williams (who scored 26 points and collected eight rebounds against NCSU) give Maryland fans hope that a magical run like the one Vasquez lead Maryland on in 2009 might still be possible.
And in the eyes of Gary Williams, the comparison between Stoglin and Vasquez is favorable towards the youngster in at least one area.
“Greivis is a lot crazier than that. Terrell’s like easy to coach in his freshman year.”