ATLANTA – Once Mark Turgeon finished his postgame news conference, the Maryland coach stepped down from the microphone and immediately sought an exit. The Terps won’t fly out of Atlanta until Thursday, forgoing their typical late-night journeys for a good night’s rest at the team hotel, but Turgeon couldn’t depart McCamish Pavilion quick enough.
For the second straight year, Maryland will leave Georgia Tech with a disappointing loss, this time a 78-68 decision that was never truly close after halftime. But unlike last February, when a two-point defeat became the low moment of Turgeon’s debut season and nothing more, falling to another ACC cellar dweller hammered another nail into the Terps’ postseason coffin.
At times they appeared disjointed, sloppy in their decision making and lackluster on defense. They were outrebounded for the third time this season, and endured their worst outside shooting game (4 for 19 on three-pointers) since going 1 for 12 at North Carolina. They were outmuscled inside and outplayed on the perimeter, another baffling road performance from a team still unable to string together the run necessary to propel them into March Madness.
Before flying into Atlanta on Tuesday night, Maryland’s players spoke of a sense of urgency, intimating the collective sense that time was running out on a season that just two months ago showed such promise. The effort was there against Georgia Tech. In that regard, Wednesday proved different from Maryland’s loss to Boston College, the bitter follow-up to its thrilling win over Duke. Otherwise, things followed a similar script.
“I think we need to play more as a team,” said freshman Shaquille Cleare, who finished with seven points, all in the first half. “If someone’s going, we just got to let them have it. Coach says we don’t listen, and I agree with him. In timeouts, I could see him drawing up plays or whatever, and we go out and don’t execute them. We start games off at high intensity, but we have to keep our feet on the pedal. I think we let up a lot.”
The Terps led by as many as five points early in the first half, but watched Georgia Tech’s lead swell to 15 midway through the second half. Relegated to playing catch-up, Maryland committed seven turnovers in each half. For Georgia Tech, center Daniel Miller made all 12 free-throw attempts and finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Robert Carter Jr., for whom Maryland had “no answer,” according to Turgeon, exploded for 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Four Terps finished in double digits, and Turgeon said he had “seven or eight guys who tried really hard.” But sheer effort won’t cut it, not on the road in the ACC, not with 18 missed shots in the paint, and certainly not with slipshod defense that allowed Georgia Tech to score 78 points, what Coach Brian Gregory called a “minor miracle”
“I’m more disappointed in our intelligence on the defensive end than on the offensive end,” Turgeon said. “I think we got in a panic mode offensively and just trying to score quickly. We missed a lot of open shots. Our guys who are supposed to make shots didn’t make them. It might not have changed the outcome, but we missed some open shots too. We just didn’t play very well.”
Self-inflicted wounds continue to plague the Terps, making an NCAA tournament appearance nearly impossible, lest they manage to muster a deep ACC tournament run. And just like road wins – Maryland is 1-6 in conference road games this season – answers for the inconsistencies seem to be lacking, from both players and Turgeon.
“We just didn’t play very smart,” Turgeon said. “There were times when we looked like a team on the offensive end. Other times, we’d just go one on one. We tried a bunch of stuff just to try and get back in the game and none of it really worked.”
Here’s Cleare: “It isn’t the coaches’ fault. They can’t play for us. It’s the team’s fault. We have to find a way to defend and play together. It’s tough losing on the road, but to be a great team you have to win on the road.”
And Seth Allen: “There’s times when guys were just on different pages. This team, defensively, we had a lot of stuff that we wanted to do. You really had to think the whole game. Throughout the whole game, we didn’t think as well as we could have. We wanted to double the post and double ball screens, and we need to be focused. There’s times when we weren’t on the same pages. There’s times when we were and we played great. We just have to keep it together more, for 40 minutes.”
The Terps have struggled to string consecutive strong performances across several games all season, so another road letdown wasn’t exactly shocking from this predictably unpredictable group. Still, Maryland embarked on its two-game trip with a glimmer of postseason hope still flickering in the distance, a fire now all but extinguished in midtown Atlanta.