A very exciting, yet frustrating game for Maryland. There was lots of good, and lots of bad. We break it down below.
1. The coaching staff needs to seriously work with Jordan and James Padgett on their free-throw shooting, because too many points are being left on the board.
I originally planned to write on how bad the entire Terps team has been from the free throw line thus far, but when I took a closer look at the numbers, I realized it's really the bigs that have been bringing down the average for everyone else. If you take Williams' and Padgett's combined 2-12 night out of the free throw equation, the Terps shot 12-18 (67%) against the Panthers. That's not great, but it's not terrible either. When looking at the entire season, the Terps are shooting 72% from the line without the sophomore big men, and 63% with them. That's a sizeable difference.
Now, the good news is that free-throwing shooting is one of those things that can be fixed. Unlike, say, three-point shooting or rebounding, free-throw shooting is something that is often improved throughout the season. The Terps would be well-served to address it soon rather than later, though. As we saw tonight, it can sometimes cost you a game.
2. Were you wondering who was going to pick up the scoring slack when Greivis, Eric, and Landon left? The answer is Cliff Tucker.
Ben B. hit on it after the College of Charleston game, while I was too busy reveling in the greatness that was Pe'Shon Howard's gamewinner, but he was absolutely right: Cliff Tucker has made a huge leap from last season. I was a little on the fence about proclaiming Tucker as scoring option numero dos but tonight solidified it. Cliff dropped 17 points against the Panthers, to go along with 5 assists and 3 rebounds. He was confident with the ball, and though his three-point shot wasn't falling (1-6), he still managed to find ways to score.
Cliff had one ridiculous play where he was running the break by himself with two defenders between him the basket. Most guys would get tangled up in that situation and lose the basketball. Instead, Cliff simply blew by both defenders for an easy bucket. That, my friends, was pure athleticism. And that is what is going to get Cliff Tucker some looks from NBA scouts at the end of the season. I have no idea if he'll make the league or even get drafted, but if he keeps up this production, he's going to get some looks. He's got the size (6' 6) and the athleticism that NBA GMs love.
3. Maryland's front-line is very thin, and boy, they could have used Pitt forward Dante Taylor.
Taylor, if you remember, was one of the Terps' top targets for the 2009 class. He was pretty highly ranked, top 20 I believe, out of Ft. Washington, Maryland, and was thought to be a Terps lean for a long time. Obviously, it didn't end up working out, but tonight's game showed just how much the Terps need a guy like Dante Taylor. Taylor wasn't spectacular tonight (8 points, 4 rebounds in 16 minutes) but he was efficient. He's grinder on the boards and he also knows how to score. He's exactly what the Terps need to put next to Jordan Williams.
I point this out not to make you pull your hair out or get depressed, (after all, there are many great prospects the Terps have missed out on), but because the front court is going to be a problem all year. When Jordan Williams picked up his second foul, I thought "If he gets one more before the half, we are absolutely toast." Dino was Dino tonight. And I suspect he'll be Dino all season. (What a great name, by the way.) But past that, the Terps really don't have anybody solid in the post.
James Padgett has shown flashes. He exhibits a post move now and then, and he had a great, timely offensive rebound tonight. But the bottom line is that he hasn't been all that productive thus-far. That great, timely rebound was his only one on the night, and he finished with zero points. Point being, he's not there yet. And if he doesn't get there by next season, and the Terps don't magically land Adjehi Baru, we're going to be royally screwed in the post.
4. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the Terps are going to be competitive this year.
Going into this game, we had a lot of questions about how legit Maryland was. Yes, they had won three games, but all three were against mid-major programs. After tonight, I think we can all confidently say this team is for real.
The Terps lost tonight, and that sucks. Their free-throwing shooting was terrible. They were exposed a bit in the front court. And they lost a game that they easily could have won. But the bottom line is this: A team that lost it's top three scorers from last season, with six new freshmen, just went into Madison Sqaure Garden and took the #4 team in the country down to the last couple minutes.
You know that ACC fans watching that game were thinking, "Wow, Maryland is not going to be as easy we thought this season." For all intents and purposes this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Maryland. And it still may be. But at least Gary is rebuilding in style. Jordan Williams is one of the best players in the ACC, Cliff has emerged as a reliable #2 scorer, and Mosley, though not incredibly impressive, actually had a decent game tonight. The freshmen are already contributing heavily, and unlike some other ACC freshmen (Kyrie Irving, Harrison Barnes, C.J. Leslie to name a few) they should be on campus long enough to catch their breath.
Losing is never fun, guys. But it happens. And it especially happens early in the season when you have a young, growing team. Despite the loss, Terp fans should sleep well tonight. The future is looking bright.