GREENSBORO, N.C. —- Maryland couldn’t find its absent defense in Chapel Hill, and understandably so.
It couldn’t uncover it in Coral Gables, partially because of Miami’s decent play.
It was nowhere to be found in the Terrapins’ home finale, for reasons still bewildering and unknown.
“These last couple games we had played, we pretty much lost the game on the defensive end,” guard Sean Mosley said.
And so Maryland was left searching after a miserable week to end its regular season, out to figure out just where its defense went off to after serving as the team’s backbone for much of the season. And the Terps left little to chance in the two workouts before traveling to the ACC tournament.
“It might have been 95 percent of practice, to be honest with you,” senior forward Dino Gregory said.
It turned out, for one night anyway, to be the right tonic for the ailing Terps.
Seventh-seeded Maryland toppled N.C. State 75-67 in the tournament’s first round, likely ending Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe‘s tenure at his alma mater while clinching a quarterfinal matchup with second-seeded Duke.
Jordan Williams had 16 points and 13 rebounds for Maryland (19-13) while Gregory added 11. All nine players who logged time scored at least five points for the Terps.
“The positive thing is we won, and believe me that’s important this time of year,” coach Gary Williams said.
Williams touted how his team learned something, even this late in the season. Perhaps most significantly, they figured out commitment to defense is the only way Maryland can thrive.
That was understood early in the season, when the Terps played more talented teams closer than expected. Gradually, it slipped their collective minds before cratering in losses to Miami and Virginia.
But not against the Wolfpack (15-16), who will miss the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in as many years under Lowe.
“We had a lot of fun out there playing defense like we did at the beginning of the season,” Mosley said. “That made the game a lot easier for us.”
Maryland didn’t appear to need any special commitment early. It built a 35-21 lead with less than five minutes left in the first half, but the Wolfpack closed within 37-31.
They could never get closer. The Terps kept finding timely stops, particularly early in the second half to repel N.C. State. Eventually, the lead expanded to 16 before contracting to six.
The Wolfpack, however, never seriously threatened.
“I thought it was key,” Gary Williams said. “We’ve been preaching defense all week. I thought our defense wasn’t as good as it could as it could have been the last week. I was glad to se us get some stops. We have to be that way. Whatever games you have left this time of year, you’re not going to win without playing good defense because the teams you’ll play from here on out are very good defensive teams, starting with tomorrow night.”
Ah, that good defensive team. Few coaches imbue their teams with defensive commitment like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. The Terps face a difficult chore in matching the Blue Devils’ effort on defense.
Yet if Maryland is to make a miracle run, it probably needs to do so.
“We’ll show up,” Williams said.
The Terps can only hope their defense, so recently relegated to a milk carton, joins them for a repeat engagement on Friday.
—- Patrick Stevens