PITTSBURGH — The ball was still in midair when Coach Mark Turgeon began calling for a full-court press. “X,” he yelled as Evan Smotrycz’s three-point attempt rattled around the rim. The Maryland men’s basketball team was in desperate need of life against Pittsburgh, trailing by double digits with nothing working, so maybe, Turgeon figured, this would help. “X,” he yelled again.
Then the shot, like so many others in a 79-59 defeat at Petersen Events Center, bounced out. So Turgeon, like at so many other moments during this Monday night debacle, turned around, threw his hands up and sighed.
“He’s always like that,” point guard Seth Allen said. “We could play UMES [Maryland Eastern-Shore] and he’ll be like that. He just wants us to be the best we could be.”
The Terrapins were nowhere close to their peak, at least not the version they insisted had been established over the past week against Tulsa, North Carolina Central and Georgia Tech. Against a Panthers team on the cusp of cracking the top 25 rankings – Turgeon later said they belonged there – Maryland squandered any and all opportunities during an abysmal second half and was left to dig through the rubble for anything positive. There wasn’t much.
“I think we just got to be tougher,” Smotrycz said.
Smotrycz and Allen were the only Maryland players to finish in double figures, though Smotrycz needed 13 shots to do so and he missed seven three-pointers after halftime. Allen was solid in 26 minutes, a season high since returning from his broken foot, and scored 18 points off the bench.
Everyone else had nights they would like to soon forget. Jake Layman scored three points and committed four fouls, outmuscled at the rim and hounded along the perimeter. Anytime Dez Wells tried to penetrate, he was swarmed by three Pittsburgh defenders; his five points were his lowest since the season’s second game. Post players Shaq Cleare, Jonathan Graham and Charles Mitchell combined for eight points. Nick Faust’s recent rejuvenation abruptly ended with seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.
“I do think that we settled for too many jump shots. I won’t mention any names, but we settled for those which was disappointing, then we didn’t rebound enough,” Turgeon said.
The problems continued, even though Turgeon said he felt “more encouraged now than I was three hours ago” and Smotrycz said there were “a lot of correctable mistakes.”
The Terps, Turgeon said, were impatient on offense and spacey on defense. They fell behind by six points at halftime and quickly the deficit grew larger once the break ended. Lamar Patterson, honored before the game for his 1,000th career point, continued his all-ACC-caliber season with a game-high 18. Talib Zanna dominated inside and finished with 13, while Baltimore native Durand Johnson had 17 points off the bench.
As a team, Pittsburgh shot 52.7 percent from the field and the Terps have won just once this season when an opponent makes more than 40 percent of its attempts (Boston College).
“I wouldn’t say it’s effort,” Allen said. “We could play a little harder. I think it’s just mental toughness. When you’re tired, boxing out every time, we let them get a lot of second-chance points, dumb plays and points off turnovers. We needed some of those.”
Instead, the Terps limped through the second half without energy or precision, and now are faced with a trip to Florida State on Sunday and a visit from Notre Dame, a team that just beat Duke, in nine days. Maryland arrived in Pittsburgh seeking its first 3-0 conference start since 2001-02, and instead left with questions about what lies ahead.
“Correctable things for us,” Turgeon said. ‘I know that sounds crazy, but I feel like we’re better than the score, the final score. I feel like the things we didn’t do well we could correct. We’re getting there.”
With less than one minute remaining, an irate Turgeon called a timeout after another defensive letdown. As the Terps walked to the huddle, he yelled at them and jabbed his finger. By this point, though, the players seemed exhausted and unmoved. The game was over then and already it was onto the next.
“I just felt like it’s hard when you’re at home and you’re up 18 to keep playing,” Turgeon said, when asked whether he called the timeout to send a message. “It’s easy to come back. And we couldn’t make a dent. It was lack of patience on offense and concentration on defense. It was frustration.
“I just kept saying let’s make a little run. I thought the game would end up at six or eight or nine. But it didn’t. We learned about it. Can’t sit there and just play like that.”