TALLAHASSEE – He had always tried to unearth optimism even in the dimmest of moments, so when a reporter asked about the Arnold Schwarzenegger T-shirt Dez Wells wore after one of the Maryland basketball team’s worst losses under Coach Mark Turgeon, the junior guard seized the opportunity and repeated the slogan emblazoned across the front.
“We’ll be back and we’ll be back strong,” he said.
Given the 85-61 calamity endured here against Florida State, the second straight 20-point defeat for the Terrapins, this seemed rather upbeat. So did Turgeon saying he felt better after Maryland lost to Pittsburgh six days ago than he did before it. The Terps were barely competitive Sunday night, buried beneath a barrage of Seminoles three-pointers during the first half. They shot poorly (33.3 percent from the field and 16.7 percent on threes) and defended even worse. The last time an opponent made 16 three-pointers against Maryland was in Dec. 2009, two winters before Turgeon arrived.
“I trust the game plan that Coach Turgeon put in front of us,” Wells said. “At the end of the day, I feel like I wouldn’t try to critique Coach Turgeon’s game plan one bit. I felt like his game plan would work in any game. It just didn’t work tonight because they got hot. It’s hard. [Florida State] could have beaten any team in the country tonight.”
Perhaps, but Maryland made things easier by slow rotation that offered open looks. Turgeon, Wells and guard Nick Faust all felt the Terps had forced the Seminoles to make shots over defenders’ hands. Florida State guard Aaron Thomas thought otherwise, saying the Terps essentially surrendered the perimeter, and his teammates agreed.
“I don’t think we’ve had a game where we’ve had wide-open shots like that this season,” Ian Miller, who had 17 points by halftime, said according to the Sun-Sentinel. “So for us to have wide-open shots, we knew we could make them.”
Even a productive offense would have struggled to match Florida State’s accuracy in the first half. At one point, six of seven possessions resulted in made three-pointers as the lead expanded from three points to 20 by intermission. Maryland succeeded at attacking the basket and attempted 34 free throws, but nothing else seemed to work. Evan Smotrycz and Seth Allen were a combined 3 for 19 and 1 for 12 on three-pointers. No one made more than five field goals and the four post players totaled just four points. Jake Layman also continued his extended drought, scoring 11 points but missing both three-point attempts as his every move was shadowed by a Seminoles defender.
“We got to the free throw line a lot in the first half by just attacking and being aggressive,” Wells said. “It’s hard to stop the bleeding when the wound is so big. It’s hard to stop the bleeding when they hit five threes in a row, and you’re closing out and hot hands and everything. They’re just hitting threes like that. Games like this happen in the NBA too. Guys hit threes. That’s what’s going to happen when you’re playing against really, really good competition.”
Florida State received double-digit scoring from five players, including a game-high 20 from Miller. As the night wore on, Faust kept reminding his teammates of last year’s game at Virginia, when an 18-point lead turned into a crushing overtime defeat. Maybe, he reasoned, Maryland could flip the script.
A backdoor alley-oop dunk to Wells began the second half on a high note, but Maryland never came closer than 17 points. Only when Florida State stopped playing transition defense in the second half and the Terps converted several easy layups could they narrowly avoid the biggest defeat in the Turgeon era. The Terps are now 4-16 away from College Park in ACC games under the third-year coach.
“You get [mad] because they haven’t made threes all year, then there they are continually making them, making them, making them,” Turgeon said. “Some of it was bad defense, some of it was them making big-time shots. You get frustrated. Then you come down and you don’t’ do a good job on the other end. It is what it is, guys. We’re not as bad as the score. We’re not that bad. We’re going to be all right. We have a lot of guys who aren’t playing well, but Wednesday night they’re going to play well.”
Here Turgeon’s voice trailed off.
“Hopefully,” he added.