Jake Layman stood behind the Comcast Center baseline Tuesday afternoon, arms crossed behind his back and eyebrows arched, thinking long and hard about why the Maryland men’s basketball team has developed a destructive affinity for impatience. Too many times the Terrapins abandon possessions in favor of quick shots, and discerning the root cause has been — like much of this season — vexing.
“I don’t know,” the sophomore forward said. “I think maybe against teams we think we’re going to beat, everyone’s saying that we should beat, we lose focus, I guess you could say. That’s just something we’ve got to work on, to keep staying focused.”
This patience, already an elusive attribute for Maryland (11-9, 3-4 ACC), will be tested against Miami, a plodding, methodical group whose style of play might be best compared to a long night at the laundromat.
The defending ACC champions lost six of their seven best players to graduation or the NBA draft, so Coach Jim Larranaga implemented a swarming matchup zone and ground the offense to a halt. For these reasons the Hurricanes (10-9, 2-5) have become the nation’s slowest team, according to the tempo metric used by analyst Ken Pomeroy.
Since Miami loves to bleed clock and since the Terps have demonstrated a penchant for restlessness when possessions drag on, Wednesday night could turn into a chess match. When the teams faced last season, the Hurricanes led 19-14 at halftime.
“You’ve got to be patient on both ends,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “They grind the clock. You just can’t go crazy out there and give up wide-open shots or layups, so you have to be patient defensively, too, and play the best you can each possession, no matter how long it takes.”
In many ways, this mirrors the approach Turgeon has taken with the Terps on a grander level. During this underwhelming season, they have posted the program’s worst record through 20 games since 1992-93, each loss angering the fan base a little more.
At this stage, when staying above .500 is more pressing than thoughts of an NCAA tournament bid, the natural reaction can be to panic, which in turn only compounds the impatience and creates more harm than good. The cycle has been vicious, and the Terps have struggled to break free from it.
Since Maryland lost to Pittsburgh, though, things have been business as usual in College Park. The Terps have worked on breaking Miami’s matchup zone by overloading one side to create open looks, much like Duke did exactly one week ago. Some players were told to be less selfish. Layman was told to be more aggressive. And everyone talked about how the Terps couldn’t afford to regress to the schoolyard style of play that has persisted throughout the month.
“It’s just growing up and being a mature player,” guard Nick Faust said. “You definitely want to be that guy. I think everyone wants to be that guy. It’s just something you have to learn as a player.”
The Hurricanes work equally deep into the shot clock on offense, content with letting time tick away because they lack the athletes to play fast. They haven’t topped 63 points since Dec. 30. They are an average offensive rebounding team, ranking 184th nationally in that category, but are experts at stressing an opponent’s morale with long possessions. After all, what’s worse than guarding for 30 seconds, allowing an offensive rebound, then having to guard for 30 more?
“We just can’t panic,” Turgeon said. “It’s a 40-minute game. There’s a shot clock. We’re going to get plenty of possessions. They’re going to have plenty of possessions. Just can’t get caught up in it. We’ve talked about being patient on both ends. Hopefully our guys are able to do that and stay patient even if we’re down six or eight. That’s really the key. We’ve talked about that a lot.
“It’s tested all our patience. We don’t like where we are. [Wednesday’s] a big game. I’d like to get to .500 in the league. That’d be good for us.”