The Maryland basketball team’s wake-up call was rude. It came without warning, during a brutal second-half stretch Wednesday night against Florida State, when the Seminoles ended the Terrapins’ chances at a 14th straight win.
But from the perspective of Coach Mark Turgeon’s young team, struggling and suffering a bad loss early in ACC play is far better than laying an egg in March.
“It’s an eye-opener,” Dez Wells said. “We didn’t expect to run through the conference, but we wanted to establish ourselves. They’re the defending ACC champions. They played a great game. But I feel like we can beat those guys, and we have to come focused and ready to play every game.”
Eye-opener. Wake-up call. Call it what you will, but the Terrapins simply weren’t themselves against Florida State. They over-dribbled and under-passed, failed to box out and allowed Seminoles forward Okaro White to dominate. Turgeon’s best example came when one player fell down, and just one other helped him up. It should be a four-man pick-up crew, Turgeon said.
“Think about it,” Turgeon said Friday. “You’re a freshman, you’re 13-1, Coach keeps telling you it’s going to be harder and it’s going to be tougher. But until you experience it you just don’t know. But with that said, our upperclassmen didn’t play well, and our sophomore class — Nick [Faust] played well, but Dez and Alex [Len] didn’t play well. Wasn’t just the young guys experiencing it for the first time. We lost a close game. We have to figure out a way to win close games, which I think we will as you go forward.”
As Turgeon noted, though, Maryland has only experienced three truly close games this season. Against Kentucky in the season opener, Pe’Shon Howard air-balled the potential game-tying three-pointers at the buzzer. Later, the Terps saw a 20-point lead slimmed to three before edging Stony Brook on free throws. And then Florida State, when Maryland was, in Turgeon’s words, “a little too soft.”
From experiencing the ACC grind once before as a freshman, Faust knew the Seminoles were a physical group, one that would “come out rowdy and ready to play.” It’s not that Maryland, which regularly rotates six newcomers to ACC play, weren’t ready, just that the Terps haven’t experienced that situation before.
“It opened the eyes for our young guys, let them know that the ACC was no joke,” Faust said. “At any night, anyone can be beaten. It brought their attention and will have them more prepared.”
Balancing frustration with motivation can be tricky, especially for a team navigating uncharted waters, but swallowing the necessary lessons while exiling the rest becomes key, especially against a veteran Miami looking stronger by the day.
Miami, which hosts Maryland on Sunday night, has reeled off three straight wins even without injured center Reggie Johnson, including a 68-59 victory on Thursday at North Carolina. (The Tar Heels are reeling, but winning in Chapel Hill is no small feat.) Durand Guards Durand Scott and Shane Larkin combine to average nearly 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists per game. Forward-center Kenny Kadji obliterated UNC with 18 points, nine rebounds, four blocks, three assists and zero turnovers.
And yet the Terps are confident about their trip to South Florida, which for six players will be their first ACC road trip ever. Miami rotates just six players, so an up-tempo, transition-heavy execution could favor Maryland’s deep bench. Shaquille Cleare will get his second career start, allowing Len to play farther out from the basket and possibly receive more touches.
Most importantly, it’s about returning with a vengeance.
“It’s just one loss,” Wells said. “We won 13 straight games. You get the first loss, it feels like six or seven losses. But it’s just one. All of our mistakes are very correctable. We’re just focusing on the next game, the next task at hand, ready to get this road win.”