What transpired at Comcast Center on Saturday night felt all too familiar. Every square on Maryland’s Bingo Card of Defeats has been checked, whether by blowout or heartbreak, and yet each night seems to unfold in parallel fashion. Time after time this season, the Terrapins have appeared on the brink of a breakthrough, perhaps finally unearthing consistency that lasts longer than a power nap, and yet they continue to teleport themselves back to the starting line after nearly every game.
“It’s just one of those years,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “How many times did we almost have a steal tonight in the press, or almost a travel, and all of a sudden they’re shooting a layup?”
Nothing particularly revolutionary emerged from an 83-79 loss to No. 20 Pittsburgh, except maybe that the Terrapins didn’t buckle like they had in prior ACC games. A sudden cold snap by the Panthers at the free throw line helped Maryland battle back from a double-digit second-half deficit, but the result was more of the same.
“I do agree that we played a lot harder tonight,” guard Dez Wells said. “We played like our backs were against the wall and that’s the way we should play every night. Things won’t always go our way. They shot way too many free throws for my liking, but that goes back to us playing better on defense, knowing situations like we can’t foul when the shot clock is going down. That’s something an immature team does and that’s not us.”
The Terps were preaching unselfish play after another reflective week, hopeful this particular tweak would actually work. In past losses, each player had wanted to fix things so badly that they instead hogged the basketball, lost focus and shot too quickly. Too many Terps were trying to play hero, which ultimately meant no one actually did.
In this regard, they were better against the Panthers, whom Turgeon later proclaimed should be ranked in the top five. Dez Wells (19 points), Jake Layman (18 points), Nick Faust (13 points) and Evan Smotrycz (10 points) all reached double figures and shot 50 percent or better. The 79 points scored by Maryland were the most allowed by Pittsburgh this season, and the Terps opened the game on a blistering stretch that put them ahead 11-4 within minutes.
But they were also outrebounded by nine, committed 29 fouls that turned into 32 made free throws and cut short 17 possessions with turnovers. The defense again was spotty at best, and nothing short of perfect smothering has stopped guard Lamar Patterson (28 points) this season.
“We didn’t do a good job of talking,” Wells said. “Communication was a big thing. We didn’t do a good job of that in spurts. Some spurts we did a really good job but being more consistent with that would have helped. It would have helped out a lot.”
So would have defending the rim and not offering easy layups for Talib Zanna, James Robinson and Cameron Wright, all of whom had at least 12 points. The Terps tried a zone defense – “I was desperate,” Turgeon said – and got two quick stops, but their full-court press was shredded as each little burst was quickly snuffed by Pittsburgh.
Maryland (11-9, 3-4 ACC) is now off to its worst 20-game start since 1992-93, which also happens to be the last time it finished with a losing record. Whether the Terrapins can avoid repeating that unpleasant bit of history remains to be seen. There are winnable games left against Virginia Tech (twice), Miami and North Carolina, teams that are a combined 4-13 in ACC play. But everyone else on the Terrapins’ schedule is at least .500 in ACC play and at least seven games above .500 overall.
For now, though, the Terrapins can take a minimal amount of comfort in the fact that the effort was better, even if the result was all too familiar.
“We played really hard tonight,” Layman said. “Just down the stretch, what really killed us was the start of the second half, we went a little crazy, took some crazy shots. That was the game right there. We couldn’t catch up from that.”
— While you’re here, take a look at Jason Reid’s column from the game, on how Mark Turgeon is still looking for answers in his third season at the helm.