It was not hard to decipher the two key storylines last night in Chapel Hill.
One, Maryland didn’t play any defense.
Two, Cliff Tucker walked the walk.
Three days earlier, Tucker expressed frustration after not playing against Miami, the cap to a stretch when his minutes steadily dwindled.
Last night, he matched his season high for minutes (20) and set a new career-high for points (18).
“I was proud of him,” coach Gary Williams said. “He didn’t play the last game and we talked the last couple days. I was really glad to see what he did because he’s a good kid and he works hard. He fell a little bit behind after the start of the season, but after what he did tonight he certainly pushed himself back into the rotation, so I’m glad to see that.”
It would be fun to parse that comment and figure out precisely what “we talked the last couple days” entails. But rather than dwelling on that, Tucker went out and did something Maryland desperately needs – provide instant offense off the bench.
Tucker floated in and out of the locker room after last night’s game, and I didn’t have the chance to say anything more than hello to him as we passed each other in the hallway. But it’s safe to say there was probably some relief at just receiving the chance to play.
Certainly, teammates took notice of what Tucker managed to do. The up-tempo game probably didn’t hurt him any, since a fast-paced affair is the sort of thing that plays to his strengths.
“It’s awesome,” forward Dave Neal said. “Cliff has a world of talent to play this game of basketball, and he showed today his athleticism, his ability to drive the ball and his ability to shoot the ball. It’s something he’s good at. He got some time today, and that’s what good players do – they make the most of their time on the court. He played well today.”
The performance got me thinking about great bench performances from Maryland in the last decade or so. While no one should be so arrogant as to believe a long-time program’s history began when they arrived on campus, the fact is the game-by-game records at my disposal go back to 1998-99.
So that’s the limit of the following list of most prolific individual scoring nights off the bench at Maryland in recent memory.
32: Steve Francis, Feb. 24, 1999, vs. Clemson
28: Lonny Baxter, Dec. 23, 1998, vs. North Texas
27: Drew Nicholas, Nov. 22, 1999, vs. Fairleigh Dickinson
25:Mike Jones, Jan. 6, 2004, vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore
22: Mike Jones, Nov. 18, 2005, vs. Fairleigh Dickinson
22: Mike Jones, Jan. 15, 2006, vs. Wake Forest
21: John Gilchrist, March 3, 2004, at N.C. State
21: Mike Jones, Jan. 15, 2005, vs. Temple
19: Chris Wilcox, Nov. 27, 2001, vs. Illinois
18: Juan Dixon, Jan. 31, 1999, at Wake Forest
18: Chris McCray, Feb. 28, 2004, vs. Wake Forest
18: Mike Jones, March 26, 2005, vs. Texas Christian
18: Cliff Tucker, Feb. 3, 2009, at North Carolina
An interesting – and Mike Jones-centric – list it is. Francis’ big day was in a Senior Night reserve role. Gilchrist’s appearance came as a result of being late for a team breakfast. Wilcox eventually cracked the starting lineup for good about a month later. Other than that, these were just good games by guys who typically came off the bench.
Either way, Tucker’s performance last night was Maryland’s most prolific scoring day off the bench in more than three years. If Tucker can keep it up, there’s no question it would help the Terps immensely in the coming weeks.