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Maryland basketball vs. N.C. State: Execution, not confidence, is plaguing Terps

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To clear their minds this week, the members of the Maryland men’s basketball team went bowling. They took to the alleys at College Park Lanes for a bonding activity and necessary diversion, anything to distract from the consecutive gutter balls they threw against Miami and Florida State.

Coach Mark Turgeon has seen teams splinter under pressure before, the weight of frustration cracking a once-stable foundation. Players quit working together, each branching off in search of individual gains rather than adhering to the collective good. But while ecstatic highs have turned into draining lows for the Terrapins (13-3, 1-2 ACC), who enter Wednesday’s matchup against 14th-rankedNorth Carolina State (14-2, 3-0) on a two-game losing streak, they’re just eager to move forward and reclaim a lost identity.

Since losing at Miami on Sunday, Turgeon has received a few phone calls from friends and colleagues, claiming they could sense Maryland’s diminishing confidence through “the looks in guys’ eyes.” Where others saw doubt, though, Turgeon saw frustration.

The Terrapins have entered the reality-check portion of their schedule, already slipping in consecutive games thanks to an array of mental mistakes and missed opportunities. Perhaps, as senior guard Logan Aronhalt said, beating Virginia Tech by 22 points in the ACC opener on Jan. 5 spurred a “false sense of the type of competition we’d be playing farther into the season.” Perhaps this moment was inevitable, like Turgeon has said since the preseason, or because his players are learning “that you can’t just show up and win at this level.”

And now the level ramps up again with a game against the Wolfpack, the preseason ACC favorite that upset then-No. 1 Duke at home Saturday and boasts an athletic, veteran lineup. After a film session, an inspiring pep talk from Turgeon and a revitalizing bowling outing, the Terps returned to their unselfish principles during practice, knowing full well a win would redirect the ship.

First, Maryland must solve its offensive woes: The Terps put up a paltry 14 first-half points and set season lows in most shooting categories against Miami on Sunday. The offense disappeared in the second half against Florida State four nights earlier. Pe’Shon Howard has been stuck in a rut at point guard, necessitating Nick Faust’s move to the position, while the team’s offensive execution leaves much to be desired.

“We just can’t make a freakin’ shot,” swingman Dez Wells said. “We cannot make a shot at all. We’re playing really, really good defense. We just [stink] right now shooting. We just can’t make a shot. There’s no way around it. There’s a lid on the cylinder. We’re getting decent looks. If we pass more and I cut down on our turnovers, I think we can get better shots than we’re getting. That’s on us as players. It’s nothing that Coach Turgeon’s not doing for us.”

Resilience and confidence might be necessary for these Terps, four of whom are experiencing adversity for the first time in their college careers. Since Howard’s last game, Turgeon said, the message to his junior point guard was “quit feeling sorry for yourself.” That advice could easily apply to Howard’s teammates as well.

“Every team goes through this,” Aronhalt said. “Even the great ones. But they all have their defining moment where everything comes together and we just have to make that moment sooner rather than later. We know it’s not going to get any easier from here. We’ll have to keep improving and keep our heads up. At some point, things will turn around for us.”

The offensive struggles were evident against the Hurricanes, when the team produced a season-low four assists, a rarity for an unselfish offense whose leading scorer, Alex Len, averages just 13.8 points. The Terrapins have rushed jumpers early in possessions, botched set pieces and missed open shooters. Most importantly, they’ve all but abandoned the inside-out principles which helped pave the way for a 13-game winning streak that now seems so long ago.

During the recent film study, the Terps graded their sequences. Just 40 percent were dubbed “good,” and Turgeon wants 85 to 90 percent to fall under that category. Confidence isn’t the problem, the players said Tuesday. Just execution.

“Dez could miss five in a row and he thinks he’s going to make his next one,” Turgeon said. “Seth [Allen], Alex, they’re going to keep playing and trying to score. I don’t see it.”

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