- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

One by one Wednesday night, Maryland’s top scorers trudged to the bench with first-half foul trouble.

Their new view was not favorable. Help was not on the way.

A growing deficiency became even more startling during the 69-65 loss to Virginia Tech: The Terrapins received no points for their subs, the first time Maryland’s bench was blanked since March 7, 1997 — a span of 395 games.

The combined output from five reserves hinted Maryland might as well have played offense a man down the entire game: 38 minutes, six rebounds, two turnovers and a foul to go along with the 0-for-2 shooting night.

Trouble was, four of them were on the floor while forwards James Gist and Bambale Osby and guard Greivis Vasquez remained seated and a 14-point lead evaporated. And as the Terps (17-10, 7-5 ACC) head into today’s game at Miami (18-7, 5-6), the inert bench is an obvious variable that must change as they make a push toward the NCAA tournament.

“I’m not saying we’re not capable, but everybody has to be a man and step up and say ‘You know what, I have to do my part, too, so we can win,’ ” Vasquez said. “This is a team. This is not me, not James, not Boom. This is a team. If we want to make it, we have to make it as a team. I’m not going to make it as myself. ‘He’s a great player, he has energy’ — forget about my energy. Look for your energy.”

It would be simple to point to Cliff Tucker’s absence as a mitigating circumstance. The freshman swingman missed his second straight game Wednesday as he recovered from a bout with the flu that caused him to lose 10 pounds, though coach Gary Williams said Tucker will play today.

Yet the Terps rank last in the ACC in bench scoring (10.9 points) in conference games. Maryland’s reserves have offered up single-digit outputs in six of the 12 league games to date. Sometimes, they’re just barely used; the Terps’ bench played a combined 3:29 in the second half of last week’s victory over Florida State.

When the current starting five is removed, the Terps have only 110 points (9.2 a game) in conference play. Over the last five outings, it is a meager 26 points (5.2 average).

That leaves Maryland incredibly vulnerable to foul trouble, particularly in the paint. It is a logical strategy for opponents to attack Gist and Osby early in the hopes of forcing the Terps to use frontcourt reserves Braxton Dupree, Dave Neal and Shane Walker, who have combined for 32 points in conference play.

“When we got those guys that start and produce a lot of offense and defense on the bench, it’s kind of hard to come back from that,” sophomore forward Landon Milbourne said. “It’s just something we have to learn. Other guys on the bench has to come ready to step up.”

When foul trouble and a thin bench collide, it leaves no wiggle room to account for Milbourne enduring an off night. Nor can the Terps afford for guard Eric Hayes, who is shooting 5-for-24 (20.8 percent) over the last three games, to enter into even a brief slump.

Such problems place an onus on Vasquez, who rhetorically asked Wednesday how a team can put up points if it has no one who can score. He finished with 25 points in the loss, but was forced to hoist his share of shots imbued with a high degree of difficulty because of the struggles of those around him.

“We have to be able to handle that,” Williams said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s going to happen. Guys get two fouls in the first half. The only thing you have to look at in that situation the next time that does happen is to play guys with two fouls if you’re not getting production. You can try to get away with it, but that can obviously affect you in the second half if they pick up their third foul.”

It might come to that. Without significant improvement from their reserves, the Terps will be forced to succeed almost solely with their starting five. But if foul problems prevent those guys from remaining on the floor, Maryland’s greatest limitation will be exposed.

“We’re definitely worried about guys like Boom [Osby] and Greivis and James getting in foul trouble, but you have to have guys that are going to come in and pick up where they left off,” Hayes said. “It’s just something that has to happen for us.”

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