As Coach Mark Turgeon again found himself explaining another loss by his Maryland men’s basketball team, he sounded less like the maddened man so familiar this season and more like someone struck by envy. The Terrapins again stumbled early and never quite recovered in an 83-79 loss to Pittsburgh, but this news conference focused not on Turgeon’s current team but the one he perhaps wished it could become.
“That’s one of the best teams I’ve ever coached against,” Turgeon said, with every compliment of the No. 20 Panthers seeming to imply the opposite for Maryland. “They make the extra pass. . . . They don’t settle. They finish through contact. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”
The Terps certainly showed more resolve than in their previous ACC disasters. No team this season had scored as many points against the Panthers, but the gulf between Maryland and relevance became more apparent as the foul-heavy night sputtered on.
Desperate to mine anything positive from this disappointment of a season, Maryland was instead bludgeoned by Pittsburgh guard Lamar Patterson, who stuffed the box score with 28 points, two short of his career high, seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Patterson was systematic in his dissection of the Terps’ defense, almost business-like, and again offered an example of exactly what the home team was missing.
“Unbelievable,” forward Jake Layman (18 points) called him, equally complimentary of the visitors as his coach.
Six games into their 18-game ACC slate, the Terps had made little meaningful noise, losing to superior teams and beating inferior ones. Their sojourn into the second third of ACC play began in similar fashion, and in many ways, Saturday’s loss represented every bit of frustration that had stewed this winter. Many weeks have been spent trying to get over the hump. Each time, Maryland has neared the summit only to fall backward.
Giveaways halted potential runs. A zone defense didn’t work, and neither did a small lineup or a full-court press. Not even a flagrant foul on Panthers center Talib Zanna (16 points) ignited the Terps, because after Evan Smotrycz hit the ensuing free throws, the junior forward fumbled the ball away in traffic. Every little burst, including that one, was promptly answered by Pittsburgh as Patterson sliced through the Terps just like so many shooters before him.
“We played like our backs were against the wall, and that’s the way we should play every night,” said Dez Wells, who scored a team-high 19 points. “Things won’t always go our way. They shot way too many free throws for my liking, but that goes back to us playing better on defense, knowing situations like we can’t foul when the shot clock is going down. That’s something an immature team does, and that’s not us.”
Several minutes in, the Terps seemed rejuvenated. They made midrange jumpers and set strong screens. Then the offense stalled, and the first half devolved into a symphony of whistles, 22 fouls in all, including four illegal screens by the Terps. Pittsburgh kept pace by making 16 straight free throws, and what few offensive possessions it had generally resulted in open layups. Soon everything felt painfully familiar.
“It’s just one of those years,” Turgeon said. “How many times did we almost have a steal tonight in the press or almost a travel and all of a sudden they’re shooting a layup?”
As the second half began, appropriately enough with a shooting foul on the Terps, they were well within striking distance. Then the old Maryland returned, lazy passes and matador defense and all. Three straight turnovers later, with just more than 15 minutes left in the game, Pittsburgh was up 53-43, its biggest lead to that stage, and soon after Maryland’s fifth turnover in seven possessions it became 59-47.
“They play together and they’re patient,” Wells said of Pittsburgh. “That’s one of the greatest things about them.”