Maryland’s Nick Faust, left, and Evan Smotrycz surround Virginia’s Joe Harris. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)
February 11, 2014

They trudged down the court en masse, circling around their teammate to offer words of encouragement. Forward Evan Smotrycz was expressionless, his eyes deadened by misfortune. He had already watched one potentially game-changing shot miss, so after another three-pointer had thudded away, not even a hearty slap on the chest from Dez Wells could cheer him up.

“In this kind of atmosphere, you have to do everything to a tee,” Wells said. “Everything has to be on point.”

In a 61-53 loss at No. 17 Virginia, these were the chances the Maryland men’s basketball team couldn’t afford to miss. It had withstood the anticipated slugfest, turning an 11-point deficit into four after guard Nick Faust converted a turnover into a dunk late Monday night. So with Jake Layman relegated to the bench after getting poked in the eye, Coach Mark Turgeon dialed up a set for Smotrycz. He wanted the ball in the shooter’s hands.

Later, as the latest road defeat to a ranked team was being stomached, Turgeon could only smile when asked about the shot that followed.

“The one that went all the way in and bounced out?” he replied. “Yeah,” Turgeon continued. It might have changed the game.

But these were the memories the Terrapins will lug back to College Park, where four days of stewing awaits before their final regular season ACC matchup against Duke. Smotrycz missed two open three-pointers that could have made it a one-possession game. Earlier, a blocked layup in transition had turned into a three from Virginia’s Joe Harris (game-high 19 points) on the opposite end. Maryland also committed two shot-clock violations after media timeouts and set two illegal screens that helped the Cavaliers balloon their lead.

In nearly three seasons under Turgeon, Maryland has never beaten a top-25 team in a hostile building. The streak reached six games as Virginia closed it out with free throws, each one hammering down the reality that, at this juncture, the Terps will continue to lag behind the ACC’s elite teams so long as mistakes surface in key situations.

“It was a little slippage just here and there,” Faust said. “Those are plays you can’t do against a team like that.”

Up 26-25 at halftime behind eight points from Smotrycz, Maryland watched its depth disappear to injury. Shaquille Cleare’s left shoulder dangled like an elephant’s trunk after absorbing contact beneath the rim. After Layman passed up an open shot, Turgeon asked him what was wrong. “I couldn’t see,” Layman replied, so the rotation was trimmed to six.

Had shots fallen late — Smotrycz began the game 3 for 4 but finished 3 for 13 — a 9-0 Cavaliers run might have been erased entirely. Instead, it gave the hosts enough breathing room to hang on. During that stretch, Justin Anderson teed up a thunderous rejection of freshman Roddy Peters’s layup attempt, then after Maryland left Harris open, Turgeon called a hasty timeout to stop the bleeding.

“After that it probably helped them more,” Turgeon said, as Virginia scored two more buckets out of the stoppage. But then the Terps began their run, slowly climbing on seven points by Faust and a layup from Wells (12 points).

Then came the moment they had been waiting for, the opportunity to finally steal one against a team that had won seven straight. Smotrycz, alone on the left wing with his wrist flicked, the ball swirling around the rim.

“That’s all we can ask for,” Turgeon said. “We got good looks.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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