Gary Williams admitted moments after a 74-63 win at Georgia Tech Sunday night he does not have a very pretty team this year.
But the Maryland head coach would rather win ugly than lose with style any day of the week.
It fits his personality, and this year’s team epitomizes the underdog, scrappy persona Williams has carried throughout his brilliant 22-year career in College Park.
The Terps failed to make a 3-point field goal (0-for-6) and went scoreless for nearly five minutes late in the second half as they wilted against the Georgia Tech press, but Maryland’s defensive efforts managed to take care of the Yellow Jackets at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, a place where Georgia Tech was undefeated in conference play and had defeated its three opponents (North Carolina, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech) by a combined 70 points.
The Terps picked up their third conference road win of the season, a mark no other ACC team has reached at the end of January.
The only outcome you can expect from Maryland (14-7, 4-3 ACC) on a given night is Jordan Williams to lead the way in points and rebounds, doing so again with 21 points and 15 rebounds after his double-double streak was snapped at 13 against Virginia earlier in the week. Contributions from others vary from game to game and even half to half, a major reason why the Terps are both compelling and highly frustrating to watch this year.
Three nights after going scoreless in Charlottesville, junior Sean Mosley rebounded with 16 points, ending a wild eight-day period in which he was benched against Clemson, failed to score against Virginia, and was the Terps’ second-leading scorer against the Yellow Jackets. His effort helped push the Terps into a fourth-place tie with Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Clemson as Maryland eyes a return bout with Duke at Comcast Center on Wednesday night.
Freshman point guard Terrell Stoglin added 13 points, but he and Pe’Shon Howard struggled in handling the Yellow Jackets’ full-court pressure, turning what was a comfortable 65-52 advantage with 8:14 to play into a four-point nail-biter with 3:30 remaining before the Terps made their free throws down the stretch to earn the 11-point win. The Terps made an impressive — by their standards, anyway — 75 percent (24-for-32) of their attempts from the line in the game.
The difference for the Terps was their stifling defense, forcing 17 turnovers and holding the Yellow Jackets to just 39.7 percent shooting. Maryland entered the game ninth in the nation in opponent field-goal percentage, holding foes to 38.1 percent shooting. Georgia Tech played without its third-leading scorer Brian Oliver who was suffering from the flu.
Maryland can exhale after taking care of business on a brief two-game road trip that resulted in two victories, but cannot rest long as the seething Blue Devils come to College Park this week after an embarrassing 93-78 loss to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon. Duke hasn’t lost consecutive games since February 2009, a sobering thought for Terps fans as Maryland has a final shot at the signature win it so desperately wants to add to its postseason resume.
However, Duke hasn’t been the imposing force it looked to be early in the season since losing freshman sensation Kyrie Irving. The Blue Devils lack the girth inside they had a season ago and look far from a championship contender at this point.
To say the Blue Devils are ripe for the picking would be overstating things, but Maryland should feel plenty confident after playing a competitive game — albeit a 71-64 loss — in Durham on January 9.
With three straight victories after a humiliating home loss to Virginia Tech 10 days ago, the Terps have repositioned themselves in the top half of the ACC and for a realistic push to make the NCAA tournament. Aside from Williams’ work in the paint, the Terps do nothing to dazzle you, but a 3-1 road conference record reflects their strong defensive work this season.
The Terps can prove Wednesday night whether this current three-game winning streak is more a product of the opponents they played or the signal of a turning point after the Hokies humbled them on their home floor on January 20.
It won’t be easy — or very pretty — but these are the types of games Gary Williams has lived for throughout his career.