The collective career arc of Maryland's three-man senior class is not comfortable.
It is not a smooth curve.
It is not predictable.
So really isn't an unexpected development there would be a few hurdles, a few less-than-ideal conditions as they navigate their way through their final season.
In a span of less than 48 hours, Adrian Bowie, Dino Gregory and Cliff Tucker spanned the topsy-turvy nature of their careers. After participating in Maryland's worst margin of defeat in Comcast Center, they combined for 36 points as the Terrapins outlasted Clemson 79-77 on Saturday.
Despite earnest proclamations of what they might have said between games, what they actually did carried much more heft.
Bowie scored six of the first 11 points to ensure the Terps managed a credible start; by the time Clemson got its 12th point, Maryland had 13 rather than zero like two nights earlier.
And in the middle of the second half, it was the three veterans who combined to score 11 straight points for the Terps, keeping their team afloat while Clemson attempted to rally.
"This is a sign we really do have great seniors and great leaders," forward Jordan Williams said. "Sometimes, we have to slap them in the face if we have to. But they're great players. They're good players and we love them to death. They work hard."
So was this a bit of a slap?
"They just needed a little bit of motivation," Williams said. "That's all it was. They definitely answered the test tonight."
No, this isn't a serene ride for coach Gary Williams and Maryland fans, but it's no shock. Neither Bowie nor Gregory nor Tucker averaged 25 minutes in a season before this year, and their individual career paths each possessed an element of unpredictability.
Bowie, primarily a starter as a sophomore, came off the bench last season and had his stats slashed accordingly. Gregory, once a Baltimore player of the year, earned more notice for an early-season suspension as a junior than anything else in his career. And Tucker was maddeningly inconsistent, a variable impossible to account for three years.
All three, of course, knew they'd be judged for their final flourish. They followed an incremental path, going from either benchwarmer status (Gregory) or tertiary support (Bowie and Tucker) to complementary pieces and finally a starring role.
Maryland (12-7, 2-3 ACC) played everyone tough until Thursday's no-show, a 10-kinds-of-terrible outing that could be looked upon as both an aberration and as a warning.
At the least, there was some self-reflection to be done.
"It was a lot," Gregory said. "The way we played against Virginia Tech is not the way we play basketball here at Maryland. We wanted to come out and show everyone we're a different team than that and a better team than that."
The 74-57 setback was eerily familiar for Bowie, who lived through consecutive losses to Ohio and American as a freshman and found himself part of a fridgid week-long NIT tour of Minneapolis and Syracuse after the Terps collapsed in the final weeks of the regular season.
Maryland earned NCAA tournament invitations the last two seasons, allowing Bowie to temporarily banish such memories to the recesses of his mind. When they bubbled up again, it only increased his resolution to try to solve matters this year to avoid a repeat.
"We just told them and told them about our experience of being in the NIT our freshman year and how that next year, our sophomore year, we worked harder than anybody because we didn't want to go back again," Bowie said. "Losing to Virginia Tech, that was an experience and a feeling that we might be heading back if we didn't win this game."
And so Maryland did. Gregory had nine points in the second half. So did Tucker. Bowie made some free throws down the stretch. And even though Bowie and Tucker have shuttled in and out of the lineup, both were on the floor in the closing moments.
Naturally, there was tension and an unexpected development; as ordered, Tucker intentionally missed a free throw with 1.6 seconds left, only to have it go out of bounds. But the Terps escaped after Demontez Stitt's halfcourt miss, their hopes revived and the daunting possibility of facing a 1-4 hole in league play eradicated.
"We've been waiting for this chance," said Tucker, who is averaging 12.9 points over his last eight games. "I've been anxious since I got here to finally get to lead a team and play well. Dino and Adrian have, too, and we're finally getting a chance to. We did a great job today and hopefully coach realized that when us three were on the court, we did a great job."
Gary Williams is clearly rooting for them, for a variety of reasons. Bowie, Gregory and Tucker are the survivors of a star-crossed five-man class, and they toiled in the shadows of more accomplished players throughout their careers.It's a likable group despite its flaws.
But he also has to, because Maryland won't go far without them. The Terps are 9-1 when they get at least 30 points from their seniors, a meager 3-6 when they don't. Now more than ever, Williams needs his three veterans.
More outings like Saturday's lend hope Maryland could make a postseason push. Perhaps that, to channel Jordan Williams, was the last slap in the face Bowie and Gregory and Tucker required for the second half of their final year.
"They were great today," Gary Williams said. "They have to grab control. I think that's one of the big themes of this year's team, is to grab control of the team. This is your team, your senior year. You're remembered for what you did this year, there's no doubt about it. I want those guys to go out with a great senior year. Today was a big step for them."