I would like to forget that I was at the Comcast Center for the first half of this Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech. The first half of that game was one of the worst displays of the fundamentals of basketball that I have ever seen at the college level. I felt as though the Yellow Jackets were intentionally trying to give Maryland as many possessions as possible by committing egregious traveling violations and throwing-up terrible shots. To return the favor, the Terrapins seemed to refuse to run a single offensive set. Many trips down the floor ended before they began, with Dave Neal tossing errant three pointers at the backboard, Greivis Vasquez flying through the air with elbows and feet flailing about, and Adrian Bowie hiding somewhere in the corner. The game continued in this pathetic fashion clear through half time and most of the second half. Georgia Tech gradually extended their lead to 10 points, and the game looked like it was getting away from the Terps.
Then, at about the nine minute mark in the second half, a switch flipped inside Eric Hayes. Just a couple mintues beforehand, Sean Mosely curled around a high screen to recieve a pass that sailed past him and into the first row. Gary Williams responded by calling a time out and doing “a Gary Williams”.
I’m sure somebody out there in the blogosphere has coined that phrase already, but if not, “a Gary Williams” means, of course, calling a time out for the purpose of having a conniption fit on the sideline. Now, I’ve noticed a trend in the team’s response to a Gary Williams. During the glory days of Joe Smith, Keith Booth, and Juan Dixon, Gary would call time out whenever momentum shifted to the other team. He’d pull a Gary Williams and suddenly the Terps would step on the floor with a collective purpose and sense of determination. But somewhere around John Gilchrist’s junior season, pulling a Gary Williams seemed to be losing its affect. Then Greivis Vasquez took over as floor general, and for some reason he seemed to be exempted from the rants, shuffling side-to-side and looking up at the scoreboard as the other players were subjected to Gary’s verbal assaults. Now, the players would respond to a Gary Williams with smirks and sideways glances. They were on to his game and didn’t want to play it.
Back to the actual game. Gary Williams calls a timeout to lose his cool about the Mosely turnover. I was watching the huddle, and I noticed that Eric Hayes was outside the circle. He wasn’t just ignoring the rant, but was actively distancing himself from the coach. This is a tell that Gary Williams has lost Eric Hayes. I imagine that Hayes has had enough of these rants, and thinks to himself, “I know how to run this offense don’t need to hear this crap.” Earlier in the game my co-blogger, M.A.S.H., and I had been discussing the fact that Hayes seemed to have totally lost his ability to run the offense. We agreed that he was not the point guard we thought he was two years ago. He was not nearly Steve Blake II, and may not be talented enough to keep-up with Williams’s up full court system. Terps fans are quick to pin the fate of the team on the highs and lows of Vasquez, but I’ve always felt that the Williams system is only as good as its point guard play. If Hayes was lost, the team was lost, and we might as well call it a season.
But just when I thought Hayes might walk off the court and down to the Cornerstone for a beer, a curious thing happened. The lights went on, and Eric Hayes awoke.
In a two minute span, Hayes led the Terps to in a flurry of fast breaks, threes, and layups that enabled the Terps to erase the 10 point deficit and grab a 53-52 lead. For the rest of the game, Hayes steadied the team as they continually traded the lead with the Jackets. He suddenly looked like a different player. He looked like the point guard we thought he was in 2006 when he came in as a freshman with smooth ball handling and a sweet stroke. He looked like the point guard that the Terps have been missing since Blake went to the NBA.
I know Georgia Tech is arguably the worst team in the ACC, and I know it’s sad that we needed a big run to beat them at home. Forget the first half. Forget the first 11 minutes of the second half. Just remember that, with nine minutes left in this game, a the lights went on inside Eric Hayes. If he can move, shoot, and defend with the confidence he displayed at the end of this game, Maryland might just make a season out of it. The Williams system requires a high level of play out of its point guard in order to capitalize in transition and hit the back doors and slashes. If Hayes can step-up his game, then this system will succeed.
2009 might be a good year afterall.
P.S. The Washington Post reported that Vasquez was telling critical Maryland students to “shut up” during the course of the game. From where I was sitting I could not hear Vasquez, but he did confirm the Post’s report and offered an explanation after the game. Reactions to his comments have been swift and largely damning. This is the kind of incident that can snowball out of control, and I fear that it will derail any progress the Terps made during this game. Let’s hope that is not the case.