Something happened down there in Clemson. Something bad. Something dark. It wasn't just an ordinary loss, apparently. Perhaps the game was so ugly, so tedious, and the loss so crushing, that individual human psyches were shaken loose from their very moorings.
But whatever it was, Maryland's second and third-best players (or third and fourth, second and fourth, whatever) have not been the same since. Eric Hayes and Sean Mosley are both riding some serious slumps ever since the Lashing at Littlejohn. And with fellow bubble dweller Georgia Tech coming to College Park Saturday, there's no time like the present to break out.
Let's start with Mosley, who seems to be a bit more deeply mired. In the last six games, starting with that Clemson loss, Mosley has averaged four points, five rebounds, and two assists. In the first 18 games of the season, he averaged 12 points, six rebounds, and three assists. His defense, while strong throughout the season, has gotten spotty of late, almost as if he needs to get his butt kicked a few times before he wakes up and realizes he is playing basketball. It wasn't long ago that Sean Mosley was considered a burgeoning star on the team. Can he get back there? Yes. Is he there right now? No he isn't.
As for Eric Hayes, in the past six games starting with the Clemson loss, he's averaged 9.5 points, four assists, and 2.5 turnovers. In the first 18 games, he averaged 11 points, three assists, and one turnover. Last night against N.C. State, he went scoreless on 0-5 shooting, although he did get five assists to just one turnover. His three-point shot was a welcome addition to the Terps' offensive arsenal early this season, but if you take out his 4-5 performance beyond the arc versus hapless North Carolina, he's 4-17 during this slump. Not many defenses are going to respect that.
These slumps are especially noticeable—and difficult to overcome—given that Maryland's bench is somewhat uneven. When I'm not waiting for a mad scientist to genetically fuse Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie into one player, I find myself wishing that Jin Soo Choi hadn't forgotten how to shoot. Or eat. Or go to class. Players like Jordan Williams and, of course, Greivis Vasquez have stepped up in recent games, but it's not like Terp fans can automatically expect Hayes' and Mosley's contributions to be subsumed by other players on a consistent basis.
So why is this happening? After going back over some box scores and watching some game film DVRs, nothing glaring emerges—at least not to a blogger with no coaching or scouting experience. But I noticed a few things.
Mosley seems to get the yips sometimes, especially around the basket. One too many ball fakes in the mix there, like he's always worried about a shot blocker that doesn't always exist. This tendency may predate the Clemson game, but the Tigers' physical bigs, most notably Trevor Booker and Jerai Grant, did throw a bit of a block party with eight swats, one of which came against Mosley. As for whether this gave him the yips, made his yips yippier, or is even the reason behind his slump in the first place, there's no way to know.
As for Hayes, he is good at moving without the ball to get open for a shot, but if someone is guarding him once he receives the pass, he sometimes has trouble creating space at that point. Once the season wore on, opponents got tougher, and word got out that Hayes was a more consistent deep threat, I think he started drawing more defensive attention than he did earlier in the year.
Fortunately, Georgia Tech's personnel may hold the cure for what ails the Terps. Their two primary guards, Imam Shumpert and Mfon Udofia, are not exactly lottery picks on either end of the floor, basically serving as ball feeders for the Jackets' fearsome front court of Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, who each might very well be lottery picks. A tough team matchup for Maryland to be sure...but not as much for the guards. With any luck, a deslumpification might—might—be in the offing.
Of course, it's always easier for someone like me to speculate than for those actually involved to do something about it. But I have faith in these two, who are both good, smart, hard-working players who know they will be needed down the stretch. So here's hoping they find a way to rid themselves of whatever got on that bus with them back in South Carolina. Or, if nothing else, find a way to pass it to the Yellow Jackets tomorrow in the CP.