When the Maryland men’s basketball team gathered inside the visiting locker room at Littlejohn Coliseum, Coach Mark Turgeon wasn’t mad, or at least he didn’t show it. Few words were passed. The Terrapins defended well, he thought, in a 77-73 double-overtime loss, but Clemson scored too many points in the paint. “We have to have a short memory,” Turgeon then said. “We’ve got to get fresh.”
Another quick turnaround brings the Terps back to Comcast Center for their final two ACC regular-season games. Virginia Tech, one defeat away from its first 20-loss season since the 1950s, arrives Tuesday. Virginia, which just secured its first ACC title since 1981, looms Sunday. After a February full of narrow losses, a two-day swing might be exactly what the Terps need.
“Yeah I like it,” forward Evan Smotrycz said. “I hate five days of practice in between games, especially after a loss. Guys want to get back on the court. Play better.”
Versus the Hokies, that would seem easy. Despite a new zone defense that has breathed some sustainability into a team that has won one game this calendar year, Virginia Tech will again be shorthanded. Freshman Ben Emelogu and senior Cadarian Raines both have bum ankles, and neither traveled northward with the team.
Maryland also has been markedly better on short swings this season, winless in six ACC games that followed at least four days of rest. Turgeon called the schedule “the strangest deal,” perhaps because the Terps have struggled to summon enough energy or focus to help overcome the trap of listlessness.
Against Clemson, Turgeon said, the Terps needed roughly 10 minutes to get their second wind. By the first media timeout, they had scored two points and midway through the first half they were up 14-12. Given that five players logged at least 30 minutes – Seth Allen and Dez Wells both topped 40 – Turgeon hoped Sunday would quickly jolt them back into condition.
“Hopefully tomorrow because the guys played so many minutes Sunday they’ll be in better shape, can handle the start of the game,” he said, on Monday’s ACC coaches teleconference.
Of course, that the Terps emerged sloppy from several days off and more practices lauded by Turgeon has been a recurring problem, and one that might be an issue when the first-place Cavaliers arrive in town. By then, Maryland could be battling to finish .500 in league play and jockeying for second-day positioning in the conference tournament, where it won’t have to contend with long breaks anymore.
For now, Virginia Tech presents the immediate task against which several Terps will look to rebound. Despite a miserable 1-for-14 shooting game, including 1 for 9 on three-point attempts, Jake Layman will be asked to maintain the same level of aggressiveness. Forward Charles Mitchell grabbed 15 rebounds versus the Tigers, but shot 3 for 9 and committed four turnovers. As a team, the Terps made 28.1 percent of their three-point attempts.
“I think the biggest thing is making sure our bodies are fresh in our minds are right so we have the right mindset going into this next game,” Smotrycz said, before the Terps boarded their flight home from Clemson and again tried to forget.