Due to the level of play during practice throughout the week, senior swingman Cliff Tucker was benched in favor of PeShon Howard, who drew his first career start as a Terp.
Tucker had been struggling mightily in his previous three games, averaging a mere seven points per, and just four made three-pointers. Against Boston College, Tucker had just six points and shot 20 percent from the field.
Head coach Gary Williams is notorious for his favoritism towards his seniors, but the coach realized his team needed an offensive spark. The situation is still considered fluid, and could vary by game. But the players now understand they cannot take the Allen Iverson approach – and I am talking bout practice.
"Everything depends on practice this year, and that is why Pe'Shon was out there tonight. A lot of it is how we play different people on the court, Williams said. Pe'Shon Howard started because of how he played in practice. Cliff (Tucker) didn't start because we wanted to give him a chance to look at the game before he entered. He had not been shooting the ball too well in practice lately, and I thought he looked very comfortable on his shot once he did get into the game.
More so, it may have been a message from Williams to his team that no matter class, no player can retain a starting position based on reputation or what they have accomplished in the past. It was evident that they were listening.
Tucker responded to the benching with 11 points, including a nine-point effort in his first 12 minutes, including a perfect 2-2 from downtown and four steals. He also added five assists, which contributed to a 35-point lead before halftime.
You never know how subbing a player is going to affect them. You may lose a player, or you may motivate them. I really thought bringing Cliff off the bench would help him.
On the other side of the lineup adjustment, with Howard manning the point guard, Adrian Bowie was able to focus more on becoming a scorer at the off-guard slot. Bowie finished the night with 13 points, compared to his 8.3-point average entering the contest. It was Bowies third-best point total on the season.
Instead of a Jordan Williams-dominated game, the entire starting five contributed equally in the 89-50 win over NJIT, Marylands first in the teams inaugural matchup. Six players each scored in double-figures, including Sean Mosley with 11, Dino Gregory who tied a career-best with 14 and James Padgett, who scored 10 points off the bench.
"We really concentrated on learning how to move within the offense, Williams said. As you play better teams, you have to be able to run a good half-court offense and get a lot of layups in transition. That's our goal and we are working towards it. Tonight I thought we had some good looks and for the most part we passed the ball well and were not selfish with the basketball. We didn't force any passes tonight, and sometimes that comes because the team is so young."
Williams did make his presence felt though. His 14 points and 12 boards translated into his sixth straight double-double, his 10th in 2010. Heading into the nights action, Williams was tied for most double-doubles in the nation. His pace is one shy of matching former Terp Joe Smith, who recorded seven straight in 1995.
"It unbelievable to put my name in the same list as Joe Smith, he is a legend at this school. I don't look too much into it. I just try to play basketball. If I had zero points and zero rebounds and we won the game I would be happy. Competitively and personally I would have been upset but we won the game, Williams said.
All is clear on the Maryland front basketball-wise after the dominating play on the court Wednesday evening, leaving the reserves to handle most of the second-half duties. But the questions will persist until they prove they can perform this fluently against an elite opponent. The 2-6 Highlanders may have kept the score 8-6 in the opening frame, but conference play is just around the corner.
Can Tucker duplicate a hot shooting night again? Will Howard emerge as the teams best option at the point? Or will this team retreat to their reliance on Jordan Williams to shoulder the load again? The script is still unwritten.