Meet your new favorite sixth man.
Cliff Tucker scored 21 points on his 22nd birthday, Jordan Williams got his tenth consecutive double-double, and the Maryland Terrapins dropped the hammer on Wake Forest, winning 74-55 to get their first ACC win.
Maryland now stands at 1-2 in the conference, getting the easy win that everyone thought this would be. The road ahead will be harder than this (duh: they just played Wake Forest) but the first step to getting back on the right track was beating Wake handily. Mission accomplished.
Things often weren't smooth for Maryland, but don't underestimate how bad Wake Forest is: Maryland shot 38% from the floor and 27% from three, sure, but Wake shot 31% (lower for much of the game) from the floor and turned the ball over an eye-popping 18 times. Much of that has to do with Maryland's defense, which is slowly emerging as one of the nation's best. It had just as much to do with Wake Forest's offense, which is arguably the worst in the ACC. Still, the Demon Deacons were held to a season-low, so that's a small accomplishment.
That terrible offense and good defense let Maryland coast for much of the game, usually with a big lead. But there were plenty of cracks in Maryland's armor; when the defense lapsed, Wake Forest tended to make runs and chip away at Maryland's big leads. Early in the second half, they cut a 15-point (or so) lead down to 6. Quite simply, Maryland rarely had any type of offensive production in half-court, and when they couldn't get easy runouts once every few possessions, things started to hurt. It's not like that's new, of course, but it's still disappointing.
One of the big culprits for those struggles might well be point guard play. After a great start to the season, Terrell Stoglin has struggled mightily over the past few games. You can spot him a rough game at Duke - it's at Duke, after all - but a similarly rough game against Wake Forest, a team with no real point guard and a mediocre defense, isn't as carefree. He's 2-19 over the past two games, and today had three turnovers (and just three assists). Not quite what you're looking for out of your point guard in ACC play.
I'm not in love with the alternative - moving Pe'Shon Howard, a low-scoring but much steadier floor general, to starter - mostly because Maryland needs the perimeter scoring that Stoglin normally provides. He's young. He'll have these games, and he'll bounce back. But until he does, it's a mighty uncomfortable situation.
Another somewhat worrisome development: Maryland's struggles to get Jordan Williams the ball. No, don't worry: he still got that double-double, as mentioned above, and he's stretched the streak to ten now. In fact, he looked pretty decent - he had 13 points and mega-impressive 15 boards, most coming in the second half. But when Wake Forest went into a zone, Maryland just couldn't get him the ball in the post consistently. They had openings on the wing from deep, but unsurprisingly had trouble connecting from there, too. Maryland's rarely been unable to get the ball to Williams for stretches at a time; when that happened today, they had little else happening.
Except, that is, Tucker. No one really knew how he'd take to the sixth man role. He looked solid against the cupcakes, but, well, they're cupcakes. He looked pretty good against Duke, too, and downright fantastic today. Yeah, he had some of those stupid mistakes he's famous for - a risky skip pass, a bad pass that results in a backcourt violation, some forced layups; y'know, standard Cliff fare - but when he scores like he did, you just grin and look past those occasional errors.
Dropping 21 on 6-13 shooting and, perhaps more importantly, 2-5 from 3, is pretty big for a Maryland team that so desperately needs a perimeter scorer. If he can keep scoring consistently like this, it won't matter if he's starting or not; he'll be that patented Gary "finisher", ala Eric Hayes, and a huge piece of the team.
Elsewhere, there wasn't much in the way of revelations. Sean Mosley had a great first half and an average, unexciting second half that included minimal points (any points?). Adrian Bowie hit a few open threes and missed a couple more. James Padgett had great hustle and then airballed a free throw. Y'know, the usual.
Speaking of FTs: they just never go away. It's a broken record, yeah, but 52% from the stripe still stands.
But as negative as most of this write-up seems, Maryland still just wiped the floor with an ACC team on the road. Yes, it's a terrible ACC team. But all said, the biggest thing I took out of the game was Cliff Tucker's reemergence, and that's a positive. There were some concerns raised, some minor (Williams getting the ball) and some bigger (Stoglin's struggles), but I'm not exactly worried about the future of this team. At least, not any more worried than I was heading into the game.
Now, we wait: Maryland plays in a near-must-win at Villanova on Saturday, a game that should tell us plenty about the Terrapins and their post-season hopes.