RALEIGH, N.C. – Placed into the context of this Maryland men’s basketball season, what transpired here Monday night was not entirely surprising. “It’s where we are right now,” Terrapins Coach Mark Turgeon said in the aftermath of a 65-56 loss to North Carolina State, sounding resigned to riding the emotional roller coaster on infinite loop.
At this particular juncture, like many before it, the abrupt shifts seem to no longer surprise Turgeon, though maybe the emotional wear of the past five days had clubbed him into this mood. The broken record spins, tracks alternating between bliss and frustration. First the Terrapins were up after beating Notre Dame. They had found the solution – having fun, mistakes be damned — and enjoyed the momentary high, until Ralston Turner (23 points) and the Wolfpack sent them spiraling once again.
“We’re all disappointed,” Turgeon said. “Disappointed, obviously.”
The ups and downs started in November and haven’t stopped. Maryland bounced back from a dismal home loss to Oregon State on Nov. 17 by winning the Paradise Jam tournament, after a players-only meeting seemingly had changed everything for the better. Losses to Ohio State and George Washington begat an ACC-opening victory at Boston College, just the fourth conference road win under Turgeon, and the corner seemed to be turned.
Then Maryland fell at home to Boston University before reeling off three more victories, buttressed by a long, necessary Christmas break. After getting hammered by Pittsburgh (20 points) and Florida State (24 points) on the road, the halftime intervention against Notre Dame last Wednesday offered something fresh, something new for the Terps to hold as they soldiered on.
The fun carried through the first half at PNC Arena on Monday night against N.C. State, when Jake Layman grinned on the long sprint back into the locker room after beating the buzzer with a three-pointer. Maryland was up nine points and the Wolfpack was missing its best player. What could go wrong?
“They’re still a good team without [T.J. Warren] and we can’t take them lightly or anything,” Evan Smotrycz said. “I don’t think we did. We just didn’t make the right plays down the stretch.”
So where does the season twist from here? The Terps return home for a two-game stand, a rematch with Pittsburgh then a game against Miami, which has won five of seven and has just enough spunky discipline under Coach Jim Larranaga to give Maryland fits. A Feb. 8 home game against Florida State is then sandwiched on both sides by consecutive road games, one in Virginia and another to Tobacco Road, including the final ACC regular season battles with North Carolina (Feb. 4) and Duke (Feb. 15).
“You always get frustrated,” Charles Mitchell said. “You always get down. But you have to have the next-play mentality and move onto the next thing.”
Right now, and this goes without saying, the Terps are nowhere near reaching their preseason NCAA tournament goals. Of course, anything can happen with games remaining against Pittsburgh, Florida State, Duke, North Carolina Syracuse and Virginia (twice), and losing on the road, all else equal, isn’t nearly as detrimental as losing at home.
But the Terrapins let the Warren-less Wolfpack pull away in the the second half, which only reinvigorated the frustration among fans over Turgeon’s coaching. The third-year coach later wished the Terps could play Tuesday, but another agonizing break awaited them after the flight home, again left to review a defeat, stew over it, look ahead to the next game and unearth something new to help battle the inconsistencies.
Some players, like freshmen Damonte Dodd and Roddy Peters, found solace in faith and tweeted about it. Smotrycz felt the Terps were too selfish and impatient in their offensive execution, and said once again the team couldn’t find the composure required to succeed on the road. Twelve more games remain in a regular season on the ropes, so Mitchell rifled through the disappointment and talked himself into moving on. Cliche or not, it’s the only option.
“You just have to stay poised and level-headed,” Mitchell said. “We can’t think about it. We just have to come to practice and get better the next day.”