For weeks now, the narrative surrounding Maryland has remained relatively stagnant. Emotions have fluctuated from the devastating to the triumphant and finally, after a letdown loss to Virginia on Sunday, disappointing. But the Terrapins are still searching for a resume-defining win, still painfully aware that time is wearing thin.
After a sobering week of rough practices and mind-clearing, Maryland enters Saturday’s game against No. 2 Duke in desperate need of a rebound performance. Of course, that’s easier said than done against the Blue Devils, who handled the Terps in late January at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Coach Mark Turgeon and some players have noticed a heightened sense of urgency within Comcast Center. Except the anticipation has little to do with what could be Maryland’s last home ACC game ever against the Blue Devils.
“Now it might be different today in practice,” Turgeon said Friday. “We had some pretty good, hard practices. It was more about Maryland. We’re young. We’ve got to get better. It’s not just about Duke on Saturday. It’s about the future. We got after them pretty good this week. They responded. I know they’ll be excited for the game.”
During Friday’s news conference, Turgeon bounced between his traditional glass-half-empty outlook and adamant proclamations of a now-or-never attitude. The Terps were outhustled against Virginia, Turgeon said, something that simply can’t happen again.
Frustrated that he “let expectations get ahead of where we are,” Turgeon also alternated between frustration and realism. The Terps have already matched last season’s win total despite rotating six newcomers and the inconsistency such young players bring to the game, the same battles they’ve fought since November.
“We need to be up,” Turgeon said. “We didn’t play very well Sunday, and we need to be up. I expect us to be up. Coaching staff, players, managers, everyone involved with our team. I expect them to be fired up and ready to go. We’re so young. Sometimes guys don’t really know what they’re getting into, so hopefully they just go out and play. I want our guys to be excited for the opportunity. It’s been a while since we played. We’ve had a good week of practice.”
Good weeks are one thing. Translating that into results is another. The Terps have just two games left against top-50 RPI opponents (Duke and North Carolina), with a host of potential pitfalls along the way (at Boston College, at Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest, at Virginia). Even with a marquee win over the Blue Devils this weekend, their March Madness status would still be in question. A solid season-closing run would do wonders, as would a strong showing in the conference tournament.
“Of course there’s a sense of urgency,” guard Nick Faust said. “We just have to perform and try to get this win, just keep pushing and move forward as a team.”
Since tweaking some systematic principles after the first Duke game, Maryland’s offensive execution has improved dramatically. Still, the Terps are far from reaching their desired level.
For the first time all season, they were outrebounded against Virginia. The Cavaliers shot 54.2 percent, one of just two teams to top 50 percent against Maryland this season (Duke is the other). Free throw woes (50 percent over the past three games) continue to plague them as well. Not exactly inspiring numbers, especially with its rotation trimmed to nine given Pe’Shon Howard’s recent suspension.
“The biggest thing is guys think we’re a lot better than we are,” guard Logan Aronhalt said. “Maybe we are that good, but we haven’t done anything to prove it. Haven’t won nearly enough games. At times, we’ve played against teams and just haven’t brought the energy. We have to understand that our talent is not enough to take us where we want to go.
“It’s probably getting magnified now that we’re playing against these teams. It’s tough. It’s a tough league. Our nonconference schedule really didn’t prepare us for this level of play.”
Of course, Maryland’s pillow-soft nonconference slate will be a thorn in its side come Selection Sunday, but it took until Feb. 15 for a player to admit its detrimental effects. This is nothing new. It coincides with the same script the Terps have followed since blowing a double-digit lead against Florida State on Jan. 9. They’re young and unpredictable, lacking in leadership and consistency. The nonconference schedule didn’t help matters. Neither does the fact that four players now have been benched at various times for various reasons.
“We’re young,” Turgeon said. “Obviously we don’t have the leadership in the upperclassmen that you need to move along. Am I frustrated? Yeah I was frustrated. But I’m also realistic. We’ve had a tough grind. I don’t know how many teams that are this young in the country are 17-7 and 5-6 in the league. I keep saying that. Would I like certain guys to be further along? Absolutely. Would I like certain guys to be more consistent? Absolutely. But it’s February 15th. It’s some of the same battles. We’ll see. In some aspects, we’re further along. In some aspects, we’re not.”