Cliff Tucker never got much attention when he came to College Park. The entire College Park world was focused on hoping for Jai Lucas that most people overlooked the recruitment of this four-star Texan. A 6'6'' guard/forward who could drive well and shoot decently from three. In his freshman year, he was an important reserve that had good hustle on the court. Now coming into this season, Tucker was expected to compete for a starting job and at least get at least 20-25 minutes a game. It has not been an easy ride for him.
After missing the tournament last season, Maryland had only three starters set, Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, and Landon Milbourne. Maryland needed another guard and front court presence. For Tucker's potential spot he was competing with Adrian Bowie and Sean Mosley. With Bowie, Maryland would use Vasquez as the swing man and have relied on Bowie's quickness. If the freshman Mosley started, Hayes would be locked on the point and Mosley would play on shooting guard. But with Tucker, Vasquez was more free to play the point with Hayes. Tucker would earn the starting spot with Braxton Dupree as the final spot as the big man. Maryland did not have the biggest expectations going into this season do to severe undersize and youth, but the Terps kept their head up high.
In his first start of the season against Bucknell, Tucker was a bright spot, getting 14 points despite just 19 minutes of play. It was a learning experience for the young Terps team, and it seemed as if he would be an important swing man to Maryland's flex offense. He showed decent shooting and the ability to drive towards the basket. After two average games, neither of which he saw more than 20 minutes, Tucker and the Terrapins began the Old Spice Classic. This tournament would change the outlook on this Texan for the season.
Maryland started with huge upset win over Michigan State, but Tucker was nowhere to be found. He only played seven minutes and did not score despite starting. In Maryland's next contest against Gonzaga, Tucker had a lackluster 18 minutes, just getting four points, not able to help in the Terps 22-point loss. The Georgetown loss made it official, not only did Cliff Tucker not start, but he was not even used much as a reserve, playing just four minutes. Maryland placed in Sean Mosley in the starting role instead of Tucker. His time was dawindling as Maryland set a new starting lineup with Vasquez, Bowie, Neal, Hayes, and Milbourne after the Terps win over Michigan. Tucker has not started since.
Tucker had been playing off the bench but for the most part was not a factor in Maryland's games. He was barely getting time going into ACC play. His concerns were voiced in the media about the lack of playing time. Gary Williams even responded to the media's questions about him, saying that players earn their time in practice. As the Terps headed to North Carolina, it looked that Tucker might finish the season and transfer out.
But Tucker returned to the court and lit up the Tar Heels for 18 points, his biggest performance since the Delaware State game. But even with that game, he again did not see much time in Maryland's next three games. But once again he would bring his best performance when it mattered. As Maryland was in big foul trouble early in their home game against UNC, Tucker got in and lit up the scoreboard. He was one of the best shooters of the night, hitting 8-12 with 22 points plus grabbing six rebounds against a very scrappy squad. It was by far his best performance of the season, and though he was not the best player of the night without him, Maryland would have lost. He stepped up when two players that replaced his starting time, Bowie and Mosley, were not effective at all.
So where will he go from here? The tendency of Gary Williams is to use a player more the next contest if he has a great game the previous time, as does most coaches. Maryland has a big game against Duke at home this week. We'll see if the evolution of Cliff Tucker continues.
(Photo credit: AP, Maryland athletics)