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Maryland basketball vs. Georgia Tech: Terrapins fall flat on the road again, losing to Yellow Jackets, 78-68

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ATLANTA — Alex Len, Seth Allen and Shaquille Cleare stared blankly across an empty media room on the top floor of McCamish Pavilion, slouched into individual love seats. There was no love in the air, however, after another disappointing loss for the Maryland basketball team. Allen tapped his phone. Cleare wore an expressionless mask and shook his head. A wall-mounted television displayed the evening’s statistics, while interviews with Georgia Tech’s players blared over the loudspeakers, interrupting Len mid-thought.

Another evening brought another baffling outing from these Terrapins, this one a 78-68 defeat that dropped them 19-9 overall and 7-8 in the ACC. It also left them with just a 1-6 mark on the road in the conference, a particularly galling record for Coach Mark Turgeon, who was clear in his desire before the season started for his team to become road warriors.

Unlike last season, when the Terps dropped a 63-61 decision in Atlanta, Wednesday’s game had plenty more at stake as Maryland tries to cling to its spot on the NCAA bubble.

Now, even with three games left, it appears that only a deep ACC tournament run can propel Maryland into an NCAA tournament bid.

“It’s tough,” Turgeon said. “I’m more disappointed in our intelligence on the defensive end than the offensive end. We got in a panic mode offensively, tried to score quickly. We missed a lot of open shots. Our guys who are supposed to make shots didn’t make them. That might not change the outcome, but we missed some open shots. Just didn’t play very well.

“We had seven or eight guys who really tried hard. But the decision making is tough. It’s hard. It wears you out.”

The time may yet come when the Terps develops into a formidable road team, but it’s clearly not this bunch. Their only road win was at last-place Virginia Tech on Feb. 7.

The last time Maryland visited Georgia Tech (15-12, 5-10 ACC), the Yellow Jackets dealt Turgeon a difficult loss. After that game, a frustrated Turgeon drove a half-hour north to watch a big-bodied high school senior named Charles Mitchell.

Wednesday night, Mitchell had a 40-member contingent supporting him, but it could not spark the Terps, nor could a parade of Maryland coaches stomping the sideline and clenching their fists. Georgia Tech’s lead swelled to double digits on several occasions, each time answered by a weak Maryland run that quickly sputtered. Before Dez Wells (team-high 15 points) hit a layup with less than two minutes to play, the Terps had not come within single digits after guard Brandon Reed stuck an and-one layup off a press break that made it 52-42.

“It’s not the coaches’ fault. Coaches can’t play for us,” Cleare said. “It’s the team’s fault. We need to find ways to defend teams. We need to play better. It’s tough losing on the road, but to be a great team, you have to win on the road.”

The Terps, who got 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds from Len, went into intermission only down 38-33. But they never made a serious run at the lead over the final 20 minutes.

Georgia Tech center Daniel Miller (16 points, 12 for 12 on free-throws) made quick work of baby hooks, finishing with three blocks that put the junior over 200 for his career. Reed notched 10 points in seven minutes in the first half and finished with 17, his first double-digit outing since Dec. 17.

The ACC’s worst shooting team hit 57.1 percent of attempts before the break, primarily on layups and three-pointers, freed by both crisp ball movement and the occasional Terps defensive breakdown. Robert Carter Jr. paced the Yellow Jackets with 19 points and 10 rebounds, his fourth double-double this season.

“Maryland is a very good team,” Georgia Tech Coach Brian Gregory said. “ . . . To be honest, that was our best 40 minutes of basketball that we played all year long, in terms of consistent performance in every key area.”

The Terps won’t return home before Saturday’s game at Wake Forest, instead flying to Winston-Salem, N.C. on Thursday for two days of practice and walk-throughs. An abysmal shooting night (4 of 19 on three-pointers) will be addressed before the second game of their trip, as should 14 head-scratching turnovers and a negative-two rebounding margin, just the third time Maryland has been out-rebounded this season.

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