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March 11, 2011
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – The one constant that players coming off the bench can provide to their team is energy.
And energy usually equals statistics that can mean the difference in winning and losing.
Two players who were able to do that Thursday were Julian Gamble of Miami and Cliff Tucker of Maryland. Their contributions off the bench helped the Hurricanes and Terps advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round.
Gamble’s performance was crucial as Miami overcame a 10-point deficit in the final 42 seconds of regulation, tied the game, then beat Virginia in overtime 69-62.
“The way this year has gone, we’ve always had adversity and we always like to come back and fight from those things,” Gamble said. “Even when we were down with 40-some seconds left we had no quit in us, we were going to fight until the end. Virginia cooperated a little bit and we capitalized on those opportunities.”
Gamble finished with 11 points – his season high – and added five rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 15 minutes of action. The 6-foot-9 junior was particularly effective in the first half after center Reggie Johnson picked up his second foul and went to the bench. Gamble played 11 minutes, dropping in seven points and snatching four rebounds to help the Canes establish a 31-25 lead.
“I was just looking to come in and try to give us some energy,” Gamble said. “I just tried to go in there and post strong and my teammates got me the ball and I was able to capitalize on those opportunities.”
Johnson played most of the second half until Virginia seized control of the game and stretched its lead to 50-39 with 2:15 to go. Gamble entered and immediately contributed a layup to get the stagnant Canes moving again.
In the frantic final seconds, with Virginia missing free throws and turning the ball over, Miami’s Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant knocked in 3-pointers. And Gamble contributed a huge play, slipping around a screen and taking a pass from Grant for a dunk that cut the lead to 53-51.
Then Gamble nearly won the game in regulation. With 1.3 seconds left and the score tied, Virginia had an inbounds play. Gamble went to guard the inbounds passer but dropped back to half-court. He stepped in to intercept the pass and launch a long 3-point attempt that just missed.
“When I first let it go I thought it was going in but it just went off to the left side,” Gamble said. “It messed me up because it was the only missed shot I had today.”
During the overtime, Gamble stayed on the bench while Johnson scored five points and the Canes won going away. It didn’t bother him.
“I knew coach wanted to get Reggie going and I wanted to get Reggie going as well,” Gamble said. “Even when I was coming in and out of the game I would always be talking to Reggie about what he needed to do. Reggie is a huge presence in the post for us. We needed him to get going and we’re going to need him these next few days.”
Johnson appreciated Gamble’s effort.
“Aw, man, Julian stepped up big,” Johnson said. “Coach (Frank Haith) always says ‘be ready when your number is called’ and he was ready. He was a force tonight. I love Julian coming in and getting me rest because Julian brings a lot of energy to the court. I might not have it sometimes.”
The two big men are interchangeable but will sometimes play together against big front lines, so don’t be surprised to see them on the court Friday against top seed North Carolina.
“We can battle with them up front,” Gamble said. “We have the size with me and Reggie to be able to battle with any of these front lines in the country. We have to try to stay out of foul trouble and keep them off the glass as best we can.
“We have to be smart with (John) Henson and (Tyler) Zeller with their shot-blocking and their athleticism to be able to use our size against them and try to capitalize on any chances we have to get points in the paint.”
In Maryland’s 75-67 win over NC State, the Terps had four players contribute 29 points and 18 rebounds off the bench. Tucker played 23 minutes and tallied nine points, four rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot.
It was the 130th game of the senior’s career and the 102nd time he came off the bench.
“This is my last year so I just tried to block everything out, just be focused no matter what,” Tucker said. “I know what I can do for this team, what kind of player I’m capable of being. In order for me to play my best, I have to have a clear mindset and not worry about coach (Gary Williams) and what he’s doing.
“When I came off the bench I just wanted to do everything I could to help this team win. I was playing aggressive and I think when I play like that I play better. I hope I can just keep it going.”
Tucker had a key stretch midway through the second half with the Terps holding a 55-46 lead. He swished a 3-pointer and followed with a layup in transition to boost the lead to 14 points. That proved to be enough of a working margin for Maryland to hold off a late Wolfpack charge.
“That was a big spark in the game,” Tucker said. “When I’m playing my game and I’m on, I can be one of the best players in the ACC. When I have my mind right, I’m good.
“Today I was really focused; I want to do what it takes to help this team win. Most people doubt us but I still believe we can win this tournament. We got it today; hopefully we’ll get the next one tomorrow.”
In order to advance Friday, the Terps will have to beat Duke. Tucker relishes the matchup.
“This will probably be my last chance at Duke so I want to go out with a bang,” he said. “I want to beat them. We want to win this tournament in order to make the NCAA Tournament. I’m going to be focused, I’m going to get my team ready, I’m going to be a leader. I think we’ll come out strong tomorrow.”
This hasn’t been an easy season for Tucker, a 6-6 swing man. He began the season as a starter and played well, but then went back to coming off the bench. He said he got upset about that, it affected his game and his production declined.
With his final ACC Tournament at hand, Tucker decided to clear his head and refocus himself.
“I think I did a good job today of bringing energy,” he said, echoing Gamble. “That’s all you can do, bring energy and be aggressive. It will make you play well. I know if I play good this team has a better chance of winning.”
Tucker said it will take a concerted effort from the starters and the bench for Maryland to advance. The bench did its job Thursday, with James Padgett contributing six points and seven rebounds, Sean Mosley seven points and five rebounds, and Pe’Shon Howard seven points and two important free throws on a 1-and-1 chance with 44 seconds remaining.
While Jordan Williams and Terrell Stoglin are the Terps stars, Tucker said the team effort can’t just be about them.
“We need everybody,” he said. “Whoever (Williams) puts in the game has to play hard. That’s one thing about coach, if you play well he won’t take you out. We’ve just got to give effort and be aggressive and I think we’ll be OK.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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