The reliable procession from the bench to midcourt last month at Comcast Center was the product of a significant conundrum for Maryland coach Gary Williams.
So many guys, so little separation.
That has changed in the past two weeks. The Terrapins‘ rotation, once featuring nearly a dozen players checking in before halftime, is winnowing down to a more manageable eight or nine for the bulk of each game. Until the closing minutes, just nine players appeared in Sunday’s 76-53 BB&T; Classic rout of George Washington at Verizon Center.
So is there, at long last, some rotational definition for Maryland (6-2), which plays at home for its next seven games?
“I think so, maybe,” sophomore forward Dino Gregory said. “Hopefully.”
Gregory’s trepidation is understandable. He deferred to Williams on more specific playing time questions, but it’s also certain he values the large role he has etched for himself in the past few weeks.
So too does Williams, whose history suggests he prefers an eight-man rotation - or something close to it. That’s why it was clear the unwieldy carousel of lineup moves was not likely to survive past last month’s Old Spice Classic.
Gregory’s emergence is the greatest change for the Terps. The big man, who played sparingly a year ago, isn’t a consistent offensive force, but he has 16 rebounds in the past two games. He set a career-high with 26 minutes in Wednesday’s defeat of Michigan, then topped it with 27 minutes against GW.
“Guys step up,” said Williams, whose team plays Friday against Delaware State. “Players do that. I wish I could say, ‘This is going to be our rotation.’ You can’t. You have to wait for the players. I think Dino Gregory’s done some things where he can play. Sean Mosley, the same thing with his aggressiveness.”
While Gregory and Mosley, who started in Maryland’s blowout loss to Georgetown last month, earned more playing time, the roles of others remain reduced or in flux. Braxton Dupree, who started the first six games, played only one minute Sunday. Forward Jerome Burney played a season-high 11 minutes against the Colonials. Swingman Cliff Tucker, an opening-night starter, appeared for 14 minutes in the past three games.
“We need other people,” Williams said. “Jerome Burney, especially in the first half, did some things. We’re looking. Cliff Tucker has great athletic ability and he can play, but he needs to meet the challenge. We need Cliff to give us some minutes.”
For now, there is some much-needed continuity. Rather than a track meet to the scorers’ table, players have a decent idea how long they will remain on the floor. Mosley appears likely to remain the first guard off the bench, usually spelling Adrian Bowie and later Eric Hayes. Gregory was the primary backup big, giving Landon Milbourne and Dave Neal a break.
“That’s pretty good for us because we know what we’re going to get out of each guy,” Milbourne said. “Just having the sense of who’s going to come in off the bench, it helps a lot.”
Neal, the team’s lone senior, agreed that there is a comfort level players feel once the rotation solidifies. And after more than three years in the program, he knows Williams will stick with something reliable until someone gives him reason to reconsider.
“He’s got seven or eight guys he’s going to go with unless someone else starts to show something in practice or games,” Neal said. “He’s going to go with these eight guys, and we’ve been playing well these past two games, so he doesn’t really have a reason to change it.”