The flawless offensive execution Maryland displayed in its ACC opener against Virginia Tech seems all too distant by now. Since hanging 53 points on the hapless Hokies by intermission 15 days ago, the Maryland basketball team posted the following halftime scores in its next four games: 36, 14, 22, 20.
So that’s 53 in one game, and 56 in the past three combined.
If Maryland wants to hang its hat on defense, which is certainly possible given its ACC-best opponents’ field goal percentage, then these Terrapins have to at least rediscover some of their missing mojo on offense. Many of the issues, at least in Saturday’s 62-52 loss to North Carolina, stemmed from foolish mistakes. Some players simply couldn’t catch the ball, while others inexplicably lost dribbles, not to defenders but to the sidelines. Other times, they telegraphed passes, leading to easy Tar Heels steals-and-scores.
They’re fixable errors, the Terrapins say, but every so often these inconsistencies rear their ugly heads, to detrimental results. The defense is solid enough that they can compete in games lingering around the 50s and 60s, which given the offense’s current state might be a realistic goal.
But unlike the Miami game, when the existence of an invisible lid covering the rim seemed actually possible, Maryland struggled to even find open looks against the Tar Heels, who were quick in the back court and aggressive in doubling the post-entry pass. Amazingly, the Terps actually outshot North Carolina from the field, 39.6 percent to 35.4, had 16 more points in the paint and just one fewer second-chance point.
“The offense is going to get there,” said Dez Wells. “We have players, we’re going to make shots. As long as the execution was good, that’s what coach cares about.”
After the game, Turgeon chalked up Maryland’s struggles to North Carolina’s success and the crowd. Oh, and one more thing.
“And we just weren’t very good,” Turgeon said. “We weren’t tough enough in a tough environment to screen better, be stronger the ball, make a shot. With that said, it’s easy to come back when you’re down 20, but we competed until the end. Defense was great in the second half, guarded smarter, guarded better, held Carolina to 35 percent on their home court in the end. I think that’s what you have to hang your hat on a little bit.”
One big problem, though, is that Maryland’s shooters simply aren’t shooting well. The Terps are shooting just 22.4 percent (15 for 67) from three-point range in their past four games, which allows teams to comfortably pack into the lane and collapse double teams onto Alex Len. The struggles are widespread, and no one player has yet to shoulder the burden.
Wells, who had a game-high 21 points against the Tar Heels, is certainly capable of taking over games, but he’s best in traffic near the rim. Len can dominate, but he needs the ball first. Charles Mitchell ground out nine points and 11 rebounds, but three of his four field goals came from offensive rebounds. In other words, cleaning up missed shots from teammates.
“It’s a long season. It’s such a long season,” Turgeon said. “You’re going to have ups and downs shooting the ball. We have good shooters missing right now. When it’s hard to get a good look, you rush it, and when you rush it you usually don’t make it.”
Indeed, the Terps are just five games into ACC play, and can rebound against 11th-place Boston College at home Tuesday. After that? It’s a weekend trip to Duke and a four-day turnaround before heading to Florida State (which is having offensive issues of its own after scoring 36 points, its fewest since 1979, on Saturday against Virginia). The journey certainly gets easier after January, with Maryland’s only road games coming at Virginia Tech, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia. The Hokies, Demon Deacons and Eagles are the ACC’s three worst teams in field-goal defense, respectively, but the Terps will try to figure things out sooner.
“I think we just need to slow down, and make smarter decisions,” Mitchell said. “It’s not about execution, it’s about making the right decision and the play. Sometimes, we’ll go too fast or break the play off, so it’s just slowing down, running the whole play, running it correctly.
“It’s tough to get out of a hole, but you have to stick together as a team, listen to what the coach says. It comes down to that, sticking together, playing together as one, and executing the plays, executing on defense.”
MUCH, MUCH MORE