Tournament hopes grow fainter in Terps’ 76-72 loss to BC

February 12, 2011 | Luke Jones

He might not be Mr. October, but Boston College’s Reggie Jackson dealt a postseason blow to Maryland that would have made the Hall of Fame slugger proud on Saturday afternoon.

Jackson’s career-high 31 points on 12-for-16 shooting led the Eagles to a 76-72 victory over the Terps in Chestnut Hill, putting Maryland’s NCAA tournament hopes on life support with six games remaining in the regular season.

Five Maryland players reached double figures, but the Terps could not overcome Jackson’s heroics as the junior guard went 5-for-7 from beyond the arc to give the Eagles the season sweep. Boston College improved to 6-5 in the ACC while the Terps dropped to 5-5 in the conference.

Dino Gregory led the Terps with 15 points while freshmen guards Pe’Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin each had 14 points and combined for 10 assists. Jordan Williams, frustrated for much of the afternoon by double-teams in the paint, finished with just 12 points and eight rebounds.

Other than a brief time early in the first half, the Eagles had no problem with Maryland’s full-court press and shot 48.2 percent from the field, often getting easy looks in the process.

The game featured two of the biggest stars in the Atlantic Coast Conference in Jackson and Williams, but it also exposed the biggest reason why the Terps have struggled to win games when they’ve mattered the most. Jackson was able to touch the ball nearly every time down the floor — and did not disappoint when he did — while Maryland’s big man took only seven shots in 34 minutes of play.

While Howard and Stoglin played admirably to keep the Terps in the game, Maryland’s veteran trio of guards — Adrian Bowie, Sean Mosley, and Cliff Tucker — went a combined 7-for-24 from the field and committed six turnovers. Defensively, Maryland’s backcourt players appeared slower and were unable to generate the second-half spark needed out of the press to win a game they desperately needed to have.

In fact, Tucker and Bowie found themselves confined to the bench for much of the second half as Gary Williams went with Howard and Stoglin down the stretch as his senior guards came up empty in the most crucial game of the season to this point.

Despite plenty of rhetoric about urgency and the need to play a consistent 40-minute game against the better teams on the schedule, Maryland (16-9, 5-5 ACC) once again fell short against a formidable opponent. The Terps had won five of their last six games entering Saturday’s game, but only one was against an opponent ranked in the RPI’s top 100 (a 79-77 win over Clemson on January 22).

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All season long, fans have lamented poor free-throw shooting, ill-timed scoring droughts, and shaky guard play as reasons why the Terps had fallen short against the Pittsburghs, Villanova, and Dukes of the college basketball world. Once Maryland would straighten out those issues, they’d be in business. They weren’t that far away in many optimists’ minds.

Alas, the old principle Occam’s razor roughly states the simplest explanation is usually the right one.

This Maryland team just isn’t that good.

An 0-8 record against top-50 RPI teams supports that sobering claim.

The Terps’ NCAA tournament hopes aren’t completely dead yet, but that dream grows weaker by the day. A win at Virginia Tech on Tuesday night followed by wins in at least four of their final five games (with a presumed loss at North Carolina) would put Maryland at 10-6 in the ACC.

And, of course, a 2004-like run in the ACC tournament can never be ruled out, no matter how unlikely it seems. That John Gilchrist-led squad was 7-9 in the ACC before winning three straight games in the Greensboro Coliseum — though the current 12-team format is far more daunting.

But the difference among those other bubble teams of the past decade and this year’s team is the absence of a backcourt player that can carry the team on his back such as Gilchrist in 2004 or Greivis Vasquez in his four years at Maryland. As terrific as Williams has been in the low post all season long, success at the collegiate level is bred by quality guard play, something the Terps haven’t had on a consistent basis this season.

If it hasn’t shown up in the middle of February, how much longer do you wait before acknowledging that train simply isn’t coming?

Perhaps the strong performances by Stoglin and Howard — not to mention both being on the floor in the closing minutes — provide hope for the future, but the clock appears close to striking midnight on Maryland’s NCAA tournament hopes.

And the shoe sure doesn’t look like it fits.

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