The University of Maryland’s basketball program has been pulling off major upsets for four decades, first under Lefty Dreisell and more recently under Gary Williams. But today’s overtime victory over No. 3 ranked North Carolina may be the most stunning ever, or at least since the pre-shot clock, 31-30 stall ball win against No.2 ranked South Carolina in 1970
That’s because this year’s edition of the Terrapins is, at least on paper, so badly undermanned. Williams not only lacks a true center, he lacks a true power forward he can play in an ACC contest. His two starting “big men” — Landon Milbourne and Dave Neal — stand (or are listed at) 6 feet 7 inches, and both were mainly small forwards last season.
Nor is Maryland blessed with great back court talent. In fact, only one member of this year’s team — Greivis Vasquez — could start for a typical Maryland team in the Gary Williams era, never the two final-four squads. Thus, it is not surprising that Maryland has lost to Duke by 41 points, to mediocre Georgetown by 27, and to Clemson by 29 just four days ago. They even lost to Morgan State. On the other hand, considering their coach, it is not surprising that, going into today, the Terps had scrapped their way to 16 wins including five in the ACC (compared to six losses).
Today Maryland fell behind the Tar Heels by 16 points in the second half, and trailed by nine with about two minutes left. But Williams’ patented pressure defense fueled a furious comeback and a Vasquez drive produced the tying bucket with ten seconds left.
Vasquez was also the hero in overtime. His three pointer (set up by a jarring screen from frail looking guard Eric Hayes) gave the Terps the lead and his two free throws sealed the deal. At the end, Carolina had five seconds in which to attempt a game-tying three pointer, but Maryland forced another turnover.
Vasquez finished with 35 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The rest of the starting line-up produced only 12 points. However, Cliff Tucker and Hayes had 22 and 17 respectively off the bench. A month ago, Tucker was at the end of the bench and seemingly headed out of College Park after he complained about his almost total lack of playing time and Williams responded that he wasn’t playing hard enough.
As for Maryland’s “bigs,” Neal and Milbourne both fouled out after combining for only 8 points and 9 rebounds. Their back-up, another 6 foot 7 incher (Dino Gregroy), also fouled out without scoring (he had 3 rebounds). But all that fouling may have paid off. Carolina’s all-American center Tyler Hansbrough was limited to 11 points, 10 below his season’s average.
The real key, though, was three-point shooting. The Terps were 12 for 30; the Tar Heels 5 for19. In their earlier game, which Carolina won by 17 points, the Terps went 3 for 10 and the Heels a phenomenal 16 for 25.
Today’s victory should be particularly sweet for Gary Williams. He has been under relentless attack this year, including from the Washington Post. I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time and, inspired by today’s upset, may get around to it tomorrow.
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