Maryland guard Cliff Tucker questioned his playing time after Saturday’s defeat of Miami and said coach Gary Williams promised him he would play against the Hurricanes - a claim Williams vehemently denied.
Tucker did not step onto the court during the 73-68 victory, the first time this season he did not play for the Terrapins (14-7, 3-4 ACC). Williams used an eight-man rotation and swapped Sean Mosley into the starting lineup in place of Eric Hayes.
“I’m glad we won, but not playing is just killing me right now,” Tucker said.
The sophomore guard expressed frustration after a personal low point to a season that started in promising fashion. He was a fixture in the lineup in mid-November, but his role grew smaller as the season unfolded.
“Other than [Saturday], when you’re losing by 40 points and losing other games, I don’t know what else to do,” he said. “I’ve been practicing hard. I’ve been in Coach Williams’ office, asking him and telling him I wanted to play and showing him that I care. He even told me I was going to play.
“[On Thursday] in practice, he told me I was going to play. He said the starters are playing too many minutes and told me I was going to play for sure and I was going to be coming in for Sean. … I came ready to play [Saturday], and obviously I didn’t play, so I don’t know what’s going on or what he’s thinking in his mind.”
Williams rebutted those claims Sunday and indicated that, while he thought Tucker would play, game conditions changed his approach. Maryland’s top four guards - Hayes, Mosley, Adrian Bowie and Greivis Vasquez - did not encounter foul trouble, and the Terps did not press as much as in their previous meeting with Miami.
“If the situation arose, he was going to play; the situation did not come up,” Williams said. “I’m the coach. I decide who plays. At some time during the week, I’ll probably talk to each player about where they stand on the team. I thought Cliff would get an opportunity. The way things worked, the opportunity wasn’t there.
“This is ridiculous. Why don’t you call [Georgetown coach] John Thompson III and ask why his seven players didn’t play? This is my choice as the head coach. I try to win the game. This is my mission: to win games. [Saturday] night, the rotation was really good.”
Tucker is averaging 3.9 points and 1.4 rebounds in 10.5 minutes this season. As a freshman, he averaged 4.1 points and 2.3 rebounds in 15.8 minutes, including six starts.
The situation could lead to a transfer. Tucker would not eliminate that possibility but insisted he would like to remain in College Park.
“It’s gone through my mind,” he said. “I always wanted to come to Maryland. I don’t want to come here and sit the bench when for two years I can play. It’s not like I want to leave. I’d rather stay here and play. If not, I’m not going to stay here and sit on the bench.”
Tucker started the first five games, then was shelved Nov. 30 when the Terps played Georgetown. Tucker played four minutes in the 75-48 loss; when Bowie emerged as Maryland’s third guard and Mosley as the top backcourt reserve, Tucker’s playing time steadily dwindled.
In Maryland’s past eight games, Tucker logged double-digit minutes only once - when he played 17 minutes in a 41-point loss at Duke. He made a 41-second cameo at the end of the first half in a loss to Boston College on Tuesday before remaining on the bench Saturday.
“I was starting for this team, and I was doing well, and they took me out of the starting lineup, and all the sudden I got to just not playing at all,” Tucker said. “When we lose and you’re not playing at all - I know I can definitely help this team. That’s the worst part about it.”