The big basketball game in Brooklyn ended up near expectations, 56-53 for the Volunteers. How Tennessee and Maryland arrived at that conclusion was borderline unbelievable.
For a half, it looked like the Terps couldn’t even tell time.
At 4:30 in Barclays Center, bright lights came on. Big men in Maryland uniforms were on the floor but they might have been sleep-walking. They accomplished very little. The Vols were ready to rumble. They dominated on defense.
Maryland couldn’t get an open look near the goal and couldn’t hit from outside (two of 16). It went over nine minutes without a field goal. At their worst, the Terps trailed by 34-13. The gap was just 17 at halftime.
Do you think 3-of-24 shooting is bad? The Terps were bad. They were out there 20 minutes and got two points in the paint.
Tennessee hit only 28 per cent in the first half. By comparison, that didn’t look too bad. The Terps hit 12.5.
Somebody sounded the alarm at intermission. Maryland was a different team in the second half, wide awake, far more aggressive. It drove the ball inside and hit 28 points in the paint at the other end of the court.
It didn’t get any better from long range. It went 0-for-8.
Tennessee’s lead did not drip-drip-drip away. There were scoreless blocks, as in almost four minutes before the first basket of the second half. With 8:42 remaining, the gap was down to six. The Vols were cooperating. They went another five minutes and 26 seconds without scoring.
The score was 48-46 when Jahmai Mashack hit a three. Hooray for the orange team.
It missed three in a row. Zakai Zeigler hit another clutch three.
To be sure the ending was dramatic, Tennessee missed point-blank layups and very vital free throws. Tyrek Key finally hit one which left Maryland star Jahmir Young a chance to miss what would have been a tying three.
Tennessee shot 28.8 in the second half, a fraction of a point better than the first. Zeigler was the only Vol in double figures (12). He missed nine shots. Julian Phillips missed nine of 10. Olivier Nkamhoua missed 10 of 13. The winners missed 10 free throws, including three fronts of one-and-ones.
Nkamhoua got the deciding rebound that allowed those who were holding their breath to rejoin the breathing.
He said “Coach told us we’re going to be in games like this all year and we’ve got to find a way to win.”
Fans may have seen the birth of a future star. Very strong freshman Tobe Awaka, from Hyde Park, N.Y., a Ziggy recommendation, filled in for ill and absent Jonas Aidoo and contributed eight rebounds and seven points. Josiah-Jordan James did not play. Santiago Vescovi returned with high energy but shot poorly and fell on his sore shoulder.
Rick Barnes’ summation was calm: Second half, Maryland started running basically two sets, Vols didn’t do a good job. Some of it was fatigue.
“We were switching and we weren’t sharp as we needed to be. But you have to give them credit.”
Barnes noticed Awaka: “Sometimes players just need an opportunity. He’s put himself in position now. If I were those other guys, I would be concerned.”
Ziggy was delighted that Tobe came through when needed.
“Every time I see him doing something, it just makes me smile. He’s like a little brother to me even though he’s three times the size of me. He’s my guy. Whenever I see him succeed, I just get a really good feeling. I can’t put into words how happy I am for him.”
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org.