CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Who knew such a beautiful city could produce such an ugly game?
Inside the BankUnited Center after the sun set a cloudless day in South Florida, the Maryland basketball team again found itself in the dark, slogging through another brutal offensive effort, dropping its second straight ACC game, this time in a 54-47, nearly unwatchable decision to Miami.
The first conference road test for Maryland’s six newcomers ended with 31.6 percent shooting from the field, 20 percent from three-point range, 44.4 percent from the free throw line, six bench points and four assists. Not exactly encouraging numbers for an already offensively challenged group that has relied on unselfishness and depth.
The Terrapins were behind 19-14 by halftime, but never got closer than three points after intermission. Dez Wells nearly single-handedly willed Maryland back into the game, sandwiching a Shane Larkin layup with an and-one layup and another layup, but Kenny Kadji stuck an and-one jumper on the other end. Two furious Julian Gamble dunks later, and the Terps were sinking to 1-2 in the ACC.
“It was a slugfest,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “It was like a heavyweight fight. Very physical team, neither team could make shots or free throws. With that said, I was pleased with our effort. I thought we played harder than we did on Wednesday and we competed.
“We just didn’t play very smart again. Fifteen turnovers. Shot selection wasn’t great. 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 just not playing well. Dez was really good. Alex [Len] was good towards 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.”
Maryland needed a defining run that never came. Instead, the Hurricanes gradually inched away, igniting a student-heavy crowd and inflating their equally subpar shooting percentage with dunks and breakaway layups. The Terps struggled with spacing issues in their motion offense, unable to generate breathing room off screens or find open post-entry passes to Len.
And so begat some head-scratching sequences, like a shot-clock violation ending with a blocked three-pointer or a Len missed three-pointer off a timeout with six minutes left in the second half. Both teams had just four fast-break points, as Turgeon was forced to call half-court sets for fear of more turnovers.
“We needed to try things,” Turgeon said. ‘We couldn’t get Alex the ball. I thought we got him the ball a lot tonight. Too much finesse in his game at times tonight. The things we added will help us. That was a good team. That’s a good team. We battled. It was a five-point game, get a stop, they dunk it, we get the lob for Alex, we’re right there. We really competed. That’s what I like. We’re going to be all right. I don’t know if we’ll win. But we’ll be all right. We’ve got a lot of young kids. The ones helping us the most are sophomores and freshmen, pretty good feeling.”
Optimism, it seems, is still prevalent, at least publicly among the Terps. Wells had 18 points and shot 7 for 11 from the field, again accepting full responsibility as a team leader for Maryland’s struggles. Turgeon was similarly pleased with Maryland’s effort, if nothing else.
Len had 16 points and nine rebounds but missed five free throws. Seth Allen was Maryland’s third-leading scorer with four points, starting for the second time in his young career at point guard over Pe’Shon Howard, who is currently 0-for-the-ACC, misfiring on all 13 field goal attempts since conference play began.
“We came here to win this game. Just didn’t happen,” Len said. “ Expectations are really high. Coach wants us to be great. We want to win every game. We just have to continue to work hard. I think we’re really good on defense, but we have to continue to work on our execution. It needs to get better. We need to screen better, make smart decisions, make easier plays. We had trouble against not really good teams. Now we play teams like Miami and Florida State and it shows.”