The Comcast Center scorer’s table has resembled a hockey bench before. Coach Mark Turgeon often substitutes liberally, especially in moments of crisis, nearly throwing reserves onto the hardwood in hopes that something sticks. Maryland’s bench runs 10 deep, with enough talent that some combination inevitably succeeds.
Except the levees kept breaking Wednesday night, mistakes and inconsistency washing away the Terps’ chances against Florida State, and no manner of blockading the holes with fresh bodies could remedy the damage.
Instead, when the gritty Seminoles finally struck back – really, it was the first time since the season opener against Kentucky that a team has punched Maryland this hard – the Terrapins had no answer. They panicked, which begat confusion, in turn leading to their first loss since Nov. 9.
“We didn’t play well but give them a lot of credit why we didn’t play well,” Turgeon said. “We were never in sync. We panicked offensively. We panicked as players and as a coaching staff a little bit. We couldn’t figure it out. We kept subbing guys in and different things. We will watch the film and try to learn from it.”
Even by Turgeon’s standards, the second-half subbing seemed almost desperate, like no combination could cease the slide. Charles Mitchell, Alex Len, Pe’Shon Howard, Dez Wells and Nick Faust started the second half, with Maryland holding a nine-point lead that would grow to 12 after two minutes. After Florida State chopped the lead to six, James Padgett, Jake Layman and Seth Allen all subbed in.
Then Maryland made seven substitutions in the next three minutes, at one point transitioning from a nearly all-freshman lineup (Layman, Allen, Cleare, Faust and Mitchell) to a relatively veteran-laden one (Logan Aronhalt, Howard, Len, Wells, Mitchell) before subbing out Mitchell for Padgett two minutes later.
“I get all the credit, so I’ll take all the blame,” Turgeon said. “I have so many options. I kept trying different options, try this, try this guy. No one could get into a rhythm. It kept getting worse the more we tried.”
Had something – anything, really – clicked, the Terps would have escaped with their 14th straight win, tying the program’s longest such streak, and moved to 2-0 in the ACC. They would have been panting, utterly exhausted, but at least clutching a win, buoyed by the same depth that’s carried them thus far.
But who could step up and straighten the ship? That substitution barrage coincided with a seven-minute scoreless stretch, during which Maryland missed 12 straight shots and committed three turnovers. Of those 12 misfires, eight were jumpers, at once a testament to Florida State’s stingy interior defense and the Terps’ inability to execute offensively. Wells shot 0 for 4 in the second half. Allen (2 for 6), Aronhalt (1 for 3), Layman (0 for 3) and Padgett (0 for 2) also succumbed to similar cold snaps.
“We haven’t seen it,” Turgeon said. “They’re athletic, good defensively. They protected the rim really well. Their post defense was pretty good. And we couldn’t drive by them. Besides that, I don’t know. Then we just didn’t make good decisions. We had a lot of guys not play well, didn’t get out of their funk.”
Now it’s onto the film room, not necessarily revisiting the drawing board but certainly a place of serious self-reflection, wondering how to better keep composure in dire circumstances. Through little fault of their own, the Terps haven’t been truly tested since Kentucky. Wednesday, both players and coaches received a thorough lesson.
At some point this ACC season, youthfulness was bound to bite Maryland. The Terrapins panicked against Florida State, but can’t allow this to become a trend. Depth delivered a 13-game winning streak, and any future success will come strapped to a 10-man caravan. But nothing worked for one miserable night in College Park, and the result sure was ugly, no matter how much of an anomaly the Terrapins hope it to be.
“We had a lot of options,” Len said. “Coach said in the locker room. He had a lot of options, but he didn’t know what way to go. We’ll watch film and learn from this game. Just have to keep getting better.”
Is there any other choice?