PITTSBURGH — He had tried to unearth positivity from this mess of a Monday night but reality was printed on the box score before him, so Coach Mark Turgeon started methodically folding the sheet of paper as if to hide the evidence. The Maryland men’s basketball team had just fallen to Pittsburgh, 79-59, a humbling reality check for everyone on the visitors’ bench, and though Turgeon later claimed he felt encouragement, even he eventually succumbed to frustration after the season’s worst defeat.
“Can’t sit there and just play like that,” Turgeon said.
It was billed as Maryland’s biggest test since point guard Seth Allen returned four games ago from a broken foot and Turgeon began insisting everyone start fresh. The Terrapins had flown north on a quick turnaround, less than 48 hours after beating Georgia Tech at home. They knew the opportunity that lay ahead, a chance to remain relevant and unbeaten in conference play. But in spectacularly demoralizing fashion they watched it zoom away.
These are the numbers Turgeon folded away during his postgame news conference: The starters shot 31.4 percent and among them only Evan Smotrycz scored more than five points. Sophomore forward Jake Layman committed four fouls and made one field goal. Against a Pittsburgh team known for its physicality, no Terps player snatched more than five rebounds and the Panthers outscored them by 14 points in the paint.
And two more statistics not in the box score: In 10 games at Petersen Events Center this season, Pittsburgh (14-1, 2-0 ACC) is unbeaten; in his third season at Maryland (10-6, 2-1), Turgeon is 4-15 in ACC road games.
“I think we could have played harder and could have played smarter,” said Smotrycz, who had 14 points but shot 4 of 13 from the field.
As Smotrycz and Allen (team-high 18 points) dissected the aftermath, they focused on intangibles. Eight turnovers, including four in five possessions, torpedoed a strong Maryland start and helped the Panthers turn a dogfight into a six-point lead by intermission. Had freshman Roddy Peters not corralled one of his own giveaways into a dunk, while all five Pittsburgh players got ahead of themselves and ran downcourt, the Terps would have closed the half on a scoreless stretch of nearly six minutes.
The second half began terribly. Turgeon dialed up a backdoor lob to Dez Wells (five points) and Allen threw the pass off the backboard instead. Turgeon turned to his bench, paused for a moment then stomped his feet while screaming. He spent most of the night reacting in this manner. Later, when calm, Turgeon tried a new approach.
“I know we lost by 20, but I’m more encouraged now than I was three hours ago,” Turgeon said. “I know that sounds crazy, but they shoot 53 percent, we shoot 35. Correctable things for us. I know that sounds crazy, but I feel like we’re better than the score, the final score.”
Perhaps in future games, but certainly not against the Panthers, who got 19 points from Lamar Patterson and 17 from sixth man and Baltimore native Durand Johnson. Several times the Terps threatened to broach single digits with three-pointers and each time Pittsburgh answered.
“They were hitting shots, man,” Allen said. “I felt like they didn’t miss out there. . . . It’s frustrating.”
Turgeon rejected that premise, saying the problems were deeper: Impatient offense. Lazy rebounding. No concentration on defense.
When Pittsburgh’s Josh Newkirk, who like Wells attended high school at Word of God Academy in Raleigh, N.C., hit a three-pointer off an inbounds pass that put Pittsburgh up 55-44, there were plenty of confused looks on the Maryland bench.
Nothing in Turgeon’s bag of tricks had worked. Not the full-court press, which lasted one possession. Not the zone, which lasted three and finally not the small lineup with Smotrycz playing center. But the game had been long been over before that last part, probably around the time Newkirk made his shot and Layman jogged down the sidelines with his shoulders shrugged.