Once the tears finally dried and the bags were packed, the Maryland men’s basketball team boarded its private plane and flew straight into a storm. Wind swirled and rain poured as the Terrapins headed north, rocking an already disturbed and glossy-eyed group still gloomy from its crushing two-point loss at Florida State late Wednesday night.
They touched down around 3 a.m. and took Thursday off, save for a sobering film review that revealed what most already knew. Maryland worked itself into position for a feel-good win that could have finally banished its ACC road demons and allowed the team to march into February on a high note. Then the Seminoles’ Michael Snaer splashed the game-winner with 1.1 seconds left to hand the Terrapins a 73-71 defeat.
Swallowing the loss, players said, proved that much more difficult because of how prepared they were and how well they executed. But the Terps missed free throws and an easy dunk down the stretch. They sent the Seminoles to the free throw line and, clinging to a one-point lead, somehow left Snaer alone in the left corner.
There’s a fine line between using such heartbreak for motivation and dwelling too much on the past. But for better or worse, Maryland must figure things out quickly.
“Ah man, we’re moving on,” freshman Shaquille Cleare said Friday. “It’s hard to move on. Still having flashbacks and memories of all the mistakes you made. You just have to get our mind clear for tomorrow’s game. It was a long, bumpy plane ride back. It was horrible. Just more heartbreaking because we knew we played so hard. The little mistakes at the end of the game cost us the game.”
Even though the road through the second half of ACC play gets easier, with Maryland (15-6, 3-5) trading road games at Miami, Duke, North Carolina and Florida State for home meetings with some of the ACC’s worst teams, the opportunity for statement wins dwindles by the day. At least among the team’s veterans, there’s developed a collective sense that time is running out. For Maryland’s younger players, ignorance might be bliss, even though lately the results have amounted to anything but joy.
“I think numbers wise, there are a certain number of games we have to win to make the NCAA tournament, and we’ll have to win a lot to get there,” said Logan Aronhalt, one of the team’s two seniors. “I don’t think some understand the pressure and the magnitude of it, coming down this late, to put ourselves in this situation to have to win this many games.
“That’s the good thing about our young guys. They have the ability to forget. They’re not really fazed by much. Hopefully we can use that to forget these past few games and really get something going for the next couple.”
That starts Saturday at Comcast Center against Wake Forest, a team that nearly upset No. 5 Duke at home on Wednesday but also one that has lost four conference road games by an average of 13.8 points. Like Maryland, the Demon Deacons (10-10, 3-5) are much improved from last year, but they, too, start three freshmen and have struggled to string together consistent outings.
“We treat every game like it’s the most important game in the world,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “We expect to win it, and if we don’t we move on. We are where we are. Margin for error? I don’t know. We’re just trying to be the best team we can be. Whether that’s 20 wins, 22, 18, I don’t know.”
As both Cleare and senior forward James Padgett said, a new month means a fresh start for the Terps, who can wipe the slate clean in anticipation of a winnable stretch. After all, their plane finally reached its destination, even after battling stormy weather and missing the initial approach.
“It was pretty somber,” Aronhalt said of the loss to Florida State. “We were right there. We had it. We just left their best player wide open for the shot at the end of the game. But I think we’re learning. Offensively we were better, which is encouraging. Defensively we got a little worse, which is upsetting. We have to pull everything together, and it has to happen soon.”