Terps basketball not taking beleaguered Hokies lightly


Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon had nothing but good things to say about Virginia Tech, even though the Hokies are in the ACC cellar this season. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

By Friday afternoon, all the elation had dissipated from Maryland’s heart-thumping win over Miami on Wednesday, when Dez Wells’s late three-pointer saved the Terrapins after they watched their 10-point lead dissolve over the final two minutes. Their first win in exactly two weeks had indeed brought confidence, but the Terrapins quickly turned their attention to Virginia Tech, a group enduring even more struggles than them.

The Hokies (8-12, 1-7 ACC) have lost seven straight, each defeat more dismal than the last, and have long since squandered any chance of making a blip on the conference radar. Maryland (12-9, 4-4), meanwhile, sits at .500 in league play and, during a year replete with regret, knows that losing to last-place Virginia Tech would bring the worst reaction yet.

“There’s no way they can be more desperate than we are,” Turgeon said. “We want to win. Our will to win has to be as great as theirs or more.”

Still, the Terps were political when discussing the Hokies on Friday. Turgeon praised leading scorer Jarell Eddie and twice called freshman point guard Devin Wilson “tremendous.” Wells said he expected the same as he does every game, full focus and peak intensity from the opponent, even though the Hokies didn’t show much of either during a blowout loss at Boston College on Wednesday.

“They’re not going to lay down for us and give us the game,” forward Jonathan Graham said. “I highly doubt that. We have to come out from the gate and play hard.”

The last time Maryland hit the road, it put up a lifeless second-half effort against North Carolina State, which was playing without ACC leading scorer T.J. Warren, and wound up losing by nine points. Three of its four conference defeats have come away from College Park, though the players struggled to pinpoint the root cause. All they could muster were blanket statements about how every trip was guaranteed to be tough.

“Our last road game we kind of blew it,” Turgeon said. “I expect us to play well tomorrow. I really do.”

So Turgeon spent the past two days tweaking the basics — “fixable” mistakes as he called them. Things like showing hard on ball screens, recognizing when a certain player gets into an offensive groove and avoiding the individual defensive breakdowns that have derailed the team in previous games this season.

The Terps continued to preach patience, even though eight games into their final ACC schedule their window of opportunity is slowly closing. They face Virginia Tech twice and Wake Forest once, all games in which they will be favored, according to analyst Ken Pomeroy.

Taking care of business Saturday afternoon against the Hokies, then, becomes top priority, and that means resisting the temptation to reach for the quick fix. Maryland cracked Miami’s matchup zone defense, becoming the first conference team to reach 70 points against the Hurricanes and displaying more ball movement and unselfishness than it had at any other point this year.

“You don’t want to rush,” forward Evan Smotrycz said. “[Being desperate] can make you impatient. How we’ve played at times . . . guys tried to make like 12-point plays. ‘You can’t hurry up and win’ is something Coach used to say. Hopefully we go out and execute from the start.”

Slow beginnings have also been a recurring problem for the Terps, something Turgeon hoped to remedy by tweaking the way they watched film. So this week, he divided the players into groups and designated each group to an assistant coach. Reviewing footage became more intimate. Individual mistakes could be further scrutinized. The season had already featured so much negativity. Perhaps this would help.

“This way,” Turgeon said, “we can have a little more constructive criticism.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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