When Maryland coach Gary Williams and IU coach Tom Crean sat down for their postgame press conferences, the coaches told two different stories.
Sure, Maryland won, but the current states of their two programs are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Williams praised his senior leadership but talked about the difficulties of playing two freshmen in the post.
“They’re doing a good job for us,” Williams said, referring to 6-foot-10 starter Jordan Williams and 6-foot-8 reserve James Padgett, “but they’re learning in tough situations like tonight and over in Maui.”
Crean, meanwhile, does not have the problem of playing a couple freshmen to complement three senior starters and other more experienced talent. Instead, he has to worry playing all freshmen and sophomores to accompany just a few veterans.
“I keep saying it, and I promise you I don’t want it to sound like I’m making excuses,” Crean said. “But when you don’t have veterans that hand it down from year to year in the program, then it becomes a problem. That’s what we have to deal with.”
The Hoosiers played tough for most of the game, but not tough enough. The Terrapins, meanwhile, “never got rattled,” Crean said, no matter how difficult the fans might have made it.
IU held a seven-point lead late in the first half, but Maryland closed the gap and eventually hit the intermission with a 35-33 lead. During that 14-5 run, senior guard Greivis Vasquez hit two 3-pointers, fellow senior guard Eric Hayes hit one and forward Landon Milbourne, another four-year player, converted on an old-fashioned three-point play – an “and one.”
The Hoosiers battled for much of the second half, but they just could not withstand the tougher and more experienced Maryland squad. They simply were not strong enough defensively, as Crean said.
IU also did not have likes of Vasquez, Hayes and Milbourne on their side.
Maryland’s senior trio combined for 56 points, including 23 from Vasquez. Vasquez struggled from the floor again, but he hit 13 of 14 free throws, while grabbing five rebounds and dishing out eight assists.
Milbourne, meanwhile, scored 19 on 8-of-11 shooting, and added seven rebounds to his stat line.
Lastly, Hayes finished with 14, including a pair of big 3-pointers.
Vasquez, in particular, brings something to the table IU can’t match.
“Greivis is a very experienced player, not just at Maryland but internationally,” Williams said. “Down the stretch, that’s where he’s at his best, I think, when we do have the lead and we have to protect the lead because he's a very good free-throw shooter and he’s very confident with the ball. He’s not going to make too many mistakes in those situations.”
But more than what he does on the court, specifically, he is a leader off the court.
Williams spoke about his leadership abilities, in huddles and at halftime.
Crean, on the other hand, is still looking for that leadership from the players. He mentioned accountability needs to come not only on the floor, but also in those similar huddles and in their own locker room.
“A player-led team is far better than a coach led team,” Crean said. “We’re not anywhere near that.”
Though the team wasn’t expected to win on Tuesday, and Maryland simply outclassed them late in the game especially, Crean knows the Hoosiers could have hit the showers with the “W.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t come in here and say that, two years in with all the freshmen and sophomores that we have and with all the lack of experience that we have,” he said.
Yet he probably should.
The Hoosiers proved they can compete at a high level, but they have a long way to go. They will win some of these games later in the season, but visiting crowds will not be as generous as the Creaniacs, The Hall Monitors, Crean’s Army or whatever they are called in Assembly Hall.
IU didn’t exactly pass their first test in Puerto Rico, but they are looking better.
Defense wins games, though, and they simply must get better in that department, among others.
Another loss, but another lesson learned.
Practice won’t be fun for the team this week, but they’ll need a kick in the butt to get better.