Postgame: Terps buckle beneath pressure in ACC/Big Ten Challenge loss to Ohio State

December 5, 2013

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – After Mark Turgeon finished his opening statement and answered the requisite question about his Maryland men’s basketball team moving to the Big Ten, one reporter asked the third-year coach about zone defense. No, Turgeon answered. Aside from out of bounds, the Terrapins did not play zone during a 76-60 loss to fifth-ranked Ohio State. But, he conceded, perhaps the reporter was onto something.

“It looked that bad, huh?” Turgeon replied.

Turgeon, his staff and his players will have plenty to discuss while watching film of what transpired here Wednesday night, and most looked as bad as a man-to-man defense so porous it confused observers into thinking it was a zone. From Ohio State’s second and third possessions, when perimeter switches left LaQuinton Ross alone for wide-open three-pointers, Maryland struggled.

The damage was done before intermission, at which point the Buckeyes led by 17 points. By then, the Terps had committed 10 turnovers that Ohio State turned into 18 points. After Maryland chopped the lead to 27-20 – all nine Buckeyes scoring possessions by that stage improbably coming on three-point plays – the hosts wreaked the same havoc that continued throughout the night. Three straight possessions became transition lobs to Sam Thompson. Two were deposited for vicious dunks. The Terps never drew within single digits again.

“That was the game, right before half,” Turgeon said. “That was the game. We couldn’t even get a shot up the last possession.”

On that possession, which began with the shot clock switched off following a timeout, Craft plucked the basketball from Dez Wells – one of the senior’s five steals – and it turned into another Thompson layup. By the end, a once-raucous announced crowd of 16,206 began filing for the exits, content with a blowout against their future divisional foe.

“Great teams can execute in the worst environments,” said Wells, who finished with a game-high 19, all but two of which came in the second half. “This was pretty bad. It wasn’t bad as Duke or Carolina, but it was a tough environment. No excuses our way. They played well, they played good, had too many turnovers in the first half. That’s our Achilles’ heel right now. Going forward, we have to cut down.”

Wells promised to address the Terps during a team meeting before the BB&T Classic on Sunday against George Washington at Verizon Center. Smotrycz was simple in his criticism, reducing the game to Ohio State’s strong defense and Maryland’s poor shooting. Turgeon heaped credit on Ohio State, which received double figures from four players and shot 52.1 percent from the field, and said Craft’s defense was “at another level.”

But for its final ACC/Big Ten Challenge playing in its longtime conference, Maryland offered little semblance of an actual challenge. Despite leaving Ross open for three three-pointers before the first media timeout, the Terps traded scoring blows and were tied 9-9 following an off-balance runner from Nick Faust. A 12-point deficit became seven when Smotrycz, who scored 15 points against a team he had faced six times while playing for Michigan, hit a jumper with his foot on the three-point line.

And then the wheels, wobbly but at least still turning until that point, came off. Maryland shot just 2 for 18 on three-pointers. Jake Layman, its leading scorer, was hounded by Lenzelle Smith Jr., unable to find breathing room off screens and finishing with just two points on 1 of 9 shooting. Freshman Roddy Peters committed five turnovers, junior Nick Faust shot 2 for 9 and Maryland assisted on just six of 25 made field goals, by far its worst rate of the season.

“We had a lot of guys who didn’t play well,” Turgeon said. “We had a lot of guys who didn’t play well. Maybe it’s [Ohio State]. Maybe they’re just that good. I don’t know. We’ll see as we move forward. We’ve played some pretty good teams – Connecticut, Providence – but we haven’t played on the road yet. You look at the numbers, we had a lot of guys who didn’t really play well. It wasn’t just Jake. It was our whole team. We just didn’t compete when we needed to compete in the game.”

Said Smotrycz: “Clearly we couldn’t handle [the pressure] in the first half. We were right there and we let them get a ton of points off easy turnovers. That combined with not making shots, we had a tough time putting points up.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt | December 4, 2013