I don’t know about you other Terps fans out there, but this year’s team wears me out.
Tonight is the rematch against the hated Duke Blue Devils (22-5, 8-4 ACC). Any fanatic who witnessed the first embarrassing 85-44 defeat at Cameron Indoor Stadium is hoping for a more competitive outcome the second time around.
Maryland (17-9, 6-6 ACC) is suddenly back into NCAA tournament contention, having scored a major upset on Saturday versus No. 3 ranked North Carolina.
Greivis Vasquez regained his old familiar form in the Terrapins’ 88-85 overtime victory at Comcast Center. He earned Maryland’s third triple-double in team history, finishing the game with 35 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.
But it was not lost on a key member of the Terrapin attack how significant this win proved for his psyche.
Junior guard Eric Hayes grabbed the basketball and flung it as high as he could when the final buzzer sounded in College Park.
He was pumped.
For the last several games, Hayes has had to watch his other teammates go through their pregame warm-ups, knowing he would not be on the court for the tip-off.
Maryland coach Gary Williams had made a tough coaching decision and benched Hayes a month ago. This was a significant blow to the young man’s ego, as he was a four-year starter at Potomac High School in Dumfries, Virginia.
The Panthers were 100-9, while Eric was on the team. Understandably, he was not happy about Coach Williams’ move.
However, just as he deferred to older players back in high school when times were difficult, he has now accepted the situation for better or for worse.
In Maryland’s case, it certainly has not hurt. Hayes played 35 minutes against North Carolina, scoring 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
Terrapin forward Dave Neal praised the maturity that Hayes has shown, since he was removed from the starting rotation.
“I think he’s accepted his role of coming off the bench, and he’s totally fine with that,” Neal said.
"He’ll be in there in crunch time when we need a big shot or a solid possession, because he knows the offense, he’s very composed and he doesn’t get frazzled out there. He just kind of plays within his own game without doing anything extraordinary.”
That is exactly the kind of player he needs to be for Maryland. Leave the creativity to Greivis Vasquez and play the patient game.
As a starter, Eric’s play was decent but erratic. He had lapses in judgment in the late stages of losses to both Florida State and Virginia Tech, throwing an errant pass or picking up his dribble in traffic. Turnovers are momentum killers.
The protruding vein in Williams’ forehead grew increasingly larger during these tense moments, because Hayes’ miscues were the source of his frustration.
Both coach and player are learning to work together, in hopes of reviving the program’s potential push into the postseason.
In the six games since Hayes was benched, he has shot 45.8 percent and averaged 11.3 points per game.
Experience is irreplaceable, and that is what Hayes has to his advantage.
In the Feb. 8 game versus the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, he started in place of Adrian Bowie, who was out with a stomach illness. And he responded with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
“I’ve done it before,” said Hayes of his mature, steady performance.
He returned to the Maryland sidelines the very next game.
The Terps will need all that Hayes can give them against the “Dukies.” If Maryland can go off from three-point land, they can establish a lead on the Blue Devils and force them to play catch up—beating Duke at their own game.
Join me in cheering the Terrapins on to another ACC upset.