Exhausted and disappointed with his team’s effort in an 80-69 loss over Virginia, Mark Turgeon couldn’t have exited the Comcast Center media room quick enough, perhaps the only Terp who displayed any sense of urgency Sunday afternoon.
Maryland was outworked and outclassed against the Cavaliers, who rolled through College Park and sent these young Terrapins spiraling into a six-day break of self-reflection. Maryland entered with momentum, coming off its first ACC road win in exactly one year, but drowned beneath a tidal wave of three-pointers and aggressive defense. Now, the Terps face an impasse, two paths diverging before their eyes.
To one side sits consistency and an NCAA tournament bid, the latter only possible through the former. Maryland has seven ACC games remaining. Just two (North Carolina and Duke) have an RPI better than 90. The window for impressive, resume-boosting wins grows thinner daily. Soon, it will shut altogether.
“We got to go,” guard Logan Aronhalt said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do this week, preparing for Duke and really working on ourselves. I think at times we’ve been right there. Guys have seen that. Today, we just didn’t have it. We have to find a way to have it 100 percent of the time.”
The same issues that have plagued Maryland through its roughest stretches surfaced in full force during the annual “Gold Rush” game: an inability to execute offensively; poor shooting, both from outside and at the free-throw line; defensive inconsistency. More, like a detrimentally lacking sense of urgency, developed as well. Virginia didn’t exactly expose anything new about the Terps. But losing in this fashion before a raucous home crowds? Now that was new.
Down the other path at Maryland’s current crossroads sits an NIT bid, unthinkable given the enormous hype that swirled once the NCAA ruled Dez Wells eligible this season. Remember when the Terps received votes in national polls, or when fans clamored for their inclusion in the top 25? That seems all too long ago, like everyone bought into the narrative of an instantaneous turnaround under Turgeon, where an exciting and charismatic bunch would bring a success-starved program back to its glory days in a flash.
The Terps still consider themselves an NCAA tournament team. And perhaps that’s possible this season. But balancing the lessons that Virginia hammered into their heads alongside a confident, short memory will mark this upcoming week.
“I’m excited,” Aronhalt said. “I’m ready to go already. I’m old but I can practice right now. Hopefully the rest of the guys are like that. I know it’s going to be a great atmosphere. If we win that game, great things can happen the rest of the way.”
The message from Aronhalt, who transferred from Albany this offseason but has become by far Maryland’s wisest and most self-aware player, was simple: The Terps suffered an inexcusable letdown against Virginia. Lest they want to host a postseason game, that can’t happen again.
“It’s definitely on our mind,” guard Nick Faust said. “We have to get this win streak going. This week coming up is a big week for us. Guys have to start finishing plays.”
Easier said than done. Shots that dropped against Virginia Tech and Wake Forest were bricks against Virginia. An inside-out offense disappeared, swapped for dribble-drive layups off individual efforts but little else. An interior rebounding game that ranked among the nation’s best was topped for the first time all season. Simply put, the Terps weren’t themselves.
“I thought we were a half-step slow,” Turgeon said. “I thought they were real physical, held their box-outs. We didn’t handle the physicality early very well. It was their day. It was their day. Definitely wasn’t ours.”
Of course, that begs the question: Who exactly are these Terps? Are they the electric group which rolled through Northwestern and sparked a court storm against North Carolina State? Are they the enigmatic bunch that laid eggs at Miami, North Carolina and Duke? Are they somewhere in the middle, a young team struggling to get over the hump, like it did in both games against Florida State and again versus Virginia?
How they rebound from this latest setback will provide the answer.
“We think we are [an NCAA tournament team,” Aronhalt said. “But we know we have to prove it still. We’ve got a lot of work to do to finish this season out and get a bid.”