The college basketball season is only about two weeks old, but the now 3-1 Terps learned a lot about themselves last night in a 79-70 loss to No. 4 Pittsburgh. Primarily, though, they learned two things: 1) They're going to be competitive this year, and 2) they really, really need to improve their free throw shooting.
In the nine-point loss, Maryland was a dreadful 14-30 (46.7%) from the line. That's 16 points left on the board, and even if the Terps had made just half of those, that's still eight important, potential points. The entire team contributed to the poor shooting, but the two biggest culprits were Jordan Williams (2-7) and James Padgett (0-5). Williams's struggles at the line are frustrating, but he brings so much else to the table that it's hard to complain too much about it. Padgett, on the other hand, hasn't done much else to this point in his career as a sophomore, and he really needs to make those shots when given the opportunity to do so. At one point, Gary Williams seemed to express some frustration towards Padgett right before a TV timeout after he missed two more free throws, but that also could have been for a missed defensive assignment, or maybe something else. It wasn't clear. Still, the point remains the same: Stop giving up free points.
Maryland forced 16 Pitt turnovers -- and only had eight themselves -- so that was a positive, along with shooting a better percentage than Pitt from the field (48.2% to 46.3%). Still, Maryland was outrebounded by 18 (43-25), and they also shot an abysmal 2-14 from three-point range. Dino Gregory seemed more concerned with blocking shots (he had four) than boxing out and grabbing rebounds (only two in 35 minutes). Williams had eight rebounds, and the only other Terp with more than five was Sean Mosley, with six. Sure, Pittsburgh is a deep team and has a lot of frontcourt size, but Maryland has to do better on the boards, period.
Overall, it was a tough, hard-fought victory for Pitt, even if they looked sloppy for most of the game. But Maryland battled them to the end. They'll face another tough opponent, No. 16 Illinois, tonight in the consolation game.
Two other notes:
- Whenever Williams gets in foul trouble, the Terps are going to struggle. Gregory isn't really adept at controlling the paint like Williams can, and Berend Weijs (junior) and Padgett aren't really big enough to do a whole lot of damage inside either. Besides Mosley and Gregory (when he actually focuses on it), the Terps don't have a ton of rebounding ability.
- Freshmen Terrell Stoglin and Pe'Shon Howard are only going to get better. The Terps' best perimeter scorer this season is probably going to be Cliff Tucker, but both Stoglin and Howard can spell Tucker and Adrian Bowie and still keep the pressure on opposing defenses. They sometimes don't have the best shot selection and aren't as skilled at running Gary Williams's offense yet, but they're still rather advanced for freshmen.