Jason Reid
Jason Reid
Columnist

Maryland men’s basketball keeps coming up short, as loss to Syracuse shows

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post - As Maryland guard Nick Faust hits the ground, Coach Mark Turgeon screams for a foul to have been called. Turgeon and the Terrapins are unlikely to make the NCAA tournament this season.

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There’s finally some good news about the Maryland men’s basketball team: Its season is drawing to a close.

Frustrated fans won’t have much longer to watch the Terrapins commit inexplicable turnovers, shoot poorly and generally appear clueless in their third season under Coach Mark Turgeon. Maryland fumbled away another chance to inspire its fans Monday night in a 57-55 loss to No. 4 Syracuse at Comcast Center.

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As the Duke Blue Devils and Maryland Terrapins prepare for their last ever, regular season men's basketball game as ACC foes, former players and coaches revisit the two seasons that defined a heated rivalry.

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Facing a team ranked atop the polls until suffering consecutive losses last week and playing its third game in six days, Maryland rallied down the stretch and was positioned to pull off an upset that would have been its brightest moment — by far — in an otherwise bleak season. But Seth Allen’s deep runner missed the mark as time expired, once again sending many in the crowd to the exits disappointed.

Too often, that’s the way Maryland fans leave the building.

When programs are moving in the right direction, teams show improvement from one season to the next. It’s called progress. Under Turgeon, the Terrapins look a lot like they did last season and the season before that. You just can’t sugarcoat 15-13 overall and 7-8 in the ACC.

Monday’s loss all but ended the Terrapins’ hopes of earning an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.

With a win over the formidable Orange (26-2, 13-2), victories in their final three games against Clemson, Virginia Tech and Virginia, and at least one victory in their final ACC tournament before bolting to the Big Ten, the Terrapins could have at least made an argument for at-large consideration.

Unless Maryland wins the ACC tournament title, Turgeon will be 0 for 3 in leading the school to the NCAA tournament. At this point in Terrapins’ rebuilding program, Turgeon and Athletic Director Kevin Anderson expected better results.

Turgeon inherited a program in bad shape. Although Maryland officials are reluctant to talk about it because of former coach Gary Williams’s importance to the university, Williams left the cupboard bare. When you recruit poorly for years, eventually a program suffers.

Still, Turgeon has had enough time to lead a turnaround. In Monday’s failure, the Terrapins remained stuck in neutral.

The Terrapins’ biggest problem? They make awful decisions with the basketball. And the player who handles it the most is the worst offender.

At this stage of his career, it appears Allen, a sophomore point guard, is incapable of running an offense effectively. He proved it again while committing a team-high five turnovers — with no assists — and playing a big part in Maryland’s 18 turnovers overall. The Terrapins made only 14 field goals and shot 35 percent from the field.

“Just careless,” Turgeon said of the Terrapins’ adventures with the ball. “We just didn’t attack the way we needed to attack.”

The best point guards are coaches on the floor. They understand what’s going on around them, think ahead and excel at helping their teammates. That’s not Allen.

In fairness to Allen, he missed the first 12 games because of a broken bone in his left foot. He has played catch-up all season. And here’s the biggest thing: Allen isn’t a true point guard. He’s a scorer.

That was obvious to anyone who watched Allen connect on 6 of 9 three-pointers en route to leading all players with 22 points. He could be even more productive if worked alongside a sharp floor leader.

Maryland doesn’t have anyone like that. Allen has maintained a stranglehold on the job by default.

Turgeon figured Allen would grow into the position. He guessed wrong. Problem is, it seems Turgeon hasn’t learned from his mistake. In an effort to improve the Terrapins at point guard, Turegon is adhering to the same plan that got them into this mess.

Bishop O’Connell High standout guard Melo Trimble is one of four top-rated prep players in Maryland’s promising recruiting class. Next season, Trimble is expected to start in the back court next to Allen, with Trimble handling the majority of playmaking duties.

Trimble is the first McDonald’s all-American to attend Maryland in a decade. In high school, Trimble has displayed the scoring chops to be a big-time player for Maryland. He’s also, however, not a true point guard.

Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis is one. In contrast to Allen, Ennis demonstrated an innate feel for the game from start to finish while scoring 20 points. He didn’t just dribble and pass — he directed Syracuse. Maryland needs an on-court conductor, too.

“We just weren’t very good against the zone,” Turgeon said. “I don’t know why. I felt great about our game plan. I’ve seen it work against them.”

The Terrapins have lost three of four, but they pushed Syracuse and No. 6 Duke to the end in two of their last three games. That’s at least something for them to feel good about. Next season, though, Maryland’s fans will expect much more than only moral victories from Turgeon.

For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

 
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