UM looks to get faster, stronger

The Baltimore Sun

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- One play in the second half of Thursday night's loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament summed up Maryland's deficiencies this season.

It might become a focal point as the Terps point toward next season.

With his team still in the game, sophomore guard Eric Hayes was a step slow getting to a long offensive rebound. Hayes then got run over, watching the Orange turn it into a fast-break layup at the other end on the way to an 88-72 victory.

"It looked like a steamroller going over him," Maryland coach Gary Williams said later.

It was sort of the way the Terps looked in many games down the stretch, getting bowled over by faster, stronger, more aggressive opponents and watching big leads turn into crushing defeats.

"We just couldn't play 40 minutes the last three weeks of the season," Williams said. "We led Clemson, we led Virginia, we led Virginia Tech. I never remember losing leads like that."

As the season slipped away and the Terps went from the bubble to oblivion, it became obvious to Williams what his team was lacking. It was driven home as Syracuse pulled away in the second half.

"Ourselves and N.C. State were probably the two slowest teams in the ACC," Williams said. "And physically, we need to get stronger. Like tonight, look at the bodies on the floor."

After finishing a 19-15 season that included seven losses in its final 10 games, Maryland will have to move forward without senior forward James Gist, one of its fastest players, and senior center Bambale Osby, one of its strongest.

They are also two of the team's unquestioned leaders.

In trying to build for next season, the Terps will have to find not only players to replace the production of Gist and Osby inside, but also players to take over as leaders in the locker room.

Gus Gilchrist, who came to Maryland in December after initially committing to Virginia Tech, will be eligible after the first semester. According to those who have watched him practice, the 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward was the team's best inside player this season.

The Terps will also have more of a physical presence in the backcourt with Sean Mosley, who will likely challenge for a starting job depending on whether Williams uses a three-guard lineup before Gilchrist becomes eligible. Junior college point guard Bobby Maze will also give Maryland some of the quickness it has lacked.

As for the leadership, that is still an issue.

The only senior on next season's team will be little-used forward Dave Neal.

"Greivis [Vasquez] and Eric played junior or senior minutes this year," Williams said of his all-sophomore starting backcourt.

Vasquez was often thrust into a leadership role this season because others, including Gist, hid from it, especially at the end of tight games. But Vasquez's decision-making and temperament were constantly an issue, and he realizes that he needs to improve in those areas to help his team progress next season.

"I've got to be a better player, a better leader," said Vasquez, who led the Terps in scoring and assists.

Hayes, who has denied rumors that he is going to transfer after this season, said Maryland's exclusion from the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years could serve as motivation for next season.

"We want to get back to the tournament. We don't want to be in this position again next year," Hayes said. "We've got to work really hard in the weight room, get stronger and just work on our games."

Cliff Tucker, who made the most consistent contribution and was given the most opportunity of any of the team's six freshmen, called this season "a big learning experience."

The offseason has begun at Maryland.

"We've got to have the younger guys step up and get stronger physically, and make a commitment to be basketball players 365 days a year," Williams said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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