The Terrapins dropped their second straight conference game Sunday, a 54-47 loss to Miami that Coach Mark Turgeon compared to a heavyweight bout.
It was an apt comparison only if the fighters combined to land one-third of their punches. Dunks clanged off the back iron, potential tip-ins batted around like volleyballs and a few more shots ignored the rim and net altogether.
Maryland insisted its second-half collapse against Florida State last Wednesday was a wake-up call, an eye-opener to the rigors of ACC play. Instead, drowsiness lingered within BankUnited Center.
With former coach Gary Williams in attendance, the Terps experienced as nightmarish a game as they’ve endured this season; they committed 15 turnovers and shot just 31.6 percent from the field. Even worse, Maryland had a season-low four assists, a concerning sign given its motion-offense principles.
“I don’t think we played together today,” said Alex Len, who like his teammates endured a painfully slow start but rebounded to finish with 16 points and nine rebounds. “Four assists? We didn’t play together as a team. We have to get tough in our execution. I don’t think we executed well enough. We just have to set good screens and make smart decisions.”
Turgeon tinkered with his starting lineup again and gave Seth Allen his second career start over point guard Pe’Shon Howard. The changes mattered little. Len broached his fifth double-double this season but missed five free throws. Save Len and Wells, the Terps shot just 15.2 percent from the field. Allen was their third-leading scorer with four points.
“Shot selection wasn’t great,” Turgeon said. “I want to run, because it’s so hard to score right now, but our decision-making has to get a lot better for us to do it. Some guys right now are not playing well. Dez was really good. Offensively and defensively. Alex was good toward the end. Could have been better. We had a lot of opportunities in the first half to score buckets around the rim and just didn’t do it.”
In the first ACC road test for its six newcomers, Maryland missed its first six three-point attempts and didn’t net one until Jake Layman ended the drought to chop the lead to 28-24 in the second half.
Overall, it took the Terps nearly 14 minutes to reach double-digit points. Miami wasn’t much better. The Hurricanes shot 34.9 percent from the field and made just 5 of 20 three-pointers.
The Hurricanes led at halftime, 19-14.
“I think both teams played so hard,” Miami Coach Jim Larranaga said. “It was a very physical, very aggressive game. It’s hard to score when guys just are fighting you so hard, not giving you any room to work. What players like is separation, space. They don’t get that space, they’re not quite as comfortable. Both teams did a good job of playing that kind of defense.”
Even Spencer Barks, a little-used walk-on, was inserted early by Turgeon, presumably to provide a motivational jump-start to Len, who started the game with three turnovers, one foul and one shot swatted away. Len then closed the half with an and-one layup, but missed the free throw, something the teams did a combined 18 times Sunday evening.
Optimism reigned as Maryland readied for its trip south, players insisting the Florida State loss, their first since Nov. 9, was an anomaly, hardly indicative of their true potential. But not even the most ardent pessimist could have crafted such a brutal scene near South Beach.
By the time senior Julian Gamble deposited consecutive put-back slams, one off a missed free throw and the other off a Layman turnover, the end seemed inevitable for Maryland. It trailed 39-29 at that stage and was reeling toward a second straight ACC loss entering Wednesday’s matchup against North Carolina State, which on Saturday knocked off top-ranked Duke.
Wells did all he could to will the Terps back into the affair. He finished with a game-high 18 points and led Maryland to a 39-34 deficit after a Logan Aronhalt three-pointer. But Miami wisely bled the shot clock on consecutive possessions and wound up with another Gamble dunk and a three-pointer from Trey McKinney Jones that stamped the loss.
“We’re definitely not taking steps back,” Turgeon said. “I know it may look that way, because the last three halves we haven’t made shots. We’re trying things. Played a small lineup a lot. We’ve got to remember where we were and where we are today. I know we came in here last year, played these guys tough, but we’re a young basketball team, we’re a whole new basketball team, our veterans are our sophomores, so we’ll have to go through some stuff. It’s not fun.”