Maryland has seen all manners of heartbreak midway through its ACC slate, finding new stones to stumble over in its five conference losses. First, it was a second-half collapse at home against Florida State on Jan. 9, as a double-digit lead was steamrolled by an Okaro White-captained train. Then it was the 14-point first half at Miami four nights later, an abysmal opening 20 minutes at North Carolina on Jan. 19 and a meeting with a Duke buzzsaw at Cameron Indoor Stadium last Saturday.
But the cruelest of all happened to the Terrapins on Wednesday night, when Michael Snaer hit his second game-winning three-pointer in seven days, this time with 1.1 seconds left in a 73-71 Florida State win. And while the script differed – Maryland actually had a chance to win with time winding down in the first meeting at Comcast Center earlier this month – the end result remained the same. Clutching a substantial lead over the Seminoles deep in the second half, the Terps simply couldn’t close again.
Maryland held eight-point leads in both halves Wednesday, but entered intermission tied at 34. After Dez Wells found Alex Len on an alley-oop — a similar play to close-range freebie that the center missed with 13 seconds left — the Terps were up 62-54 and seemingly bound for a season-defining, satisfying road win entering a decidedly softer February schedule.
It felt all too familiar. They were here before, on Jan. 9 in College Park, facing adversity for the first time, staggered and floored when White scored 15 straight points and erased Maryland’s lead. But even as Florida State whittled away the lead Wednesday, first with two Okaro White free throws, then with a Snaer layup, and finally with a Kiel Turpin jumper that brought the deficit to 62-60, the Terps seemed defiant, buoyed by the confidence that, yes, the Seminoles came back three weeks ago, but darned if they’d let it happen again.
“Never thought we were going to lose,” Coach Mark Turgeon said after.
Neither did his players. It felt like their night, when they’d finally secure that elusive conference road victory, erasing the bitterness left behind from the first act against Florida State, compounded by two losses in their past three games and four in the past six.
Typically a glass-half-empty soul during his debut season with the Terps, Turgeon has followed a predictable script during news conferences this season. While finding fault with individual efforts on a micro level – turnovers here, immaturity there – he’s remained generally optimistic about the big picture, no more so than Tuesday, when he challenged the heightened expectations set for his players before the season.
So he lauded Maryland’s effort after Wednesday’s loss, saying the Terps “made huge strides as a basketball team” and “really executed.” And yet there remained an unmistakable twang of disappointment in his voice at another win slipped away.
“It hurts because you invested so much,” Turgeon said. “And this was one we really put a lot into. We were really invested. We put a lot into every game. But this one we felt like we could win if we played well. Just came up short.”
His players were a little more blunt, and perhaps more realistic about the team’s current state, entering a series of very winnable games, questions about their postseason chances swirling daily.
“No, I don’t take anything good from losing,” Wells said. “That’s all I have to say about it. Everyone’s pretty down. When you lose like that, everyone takes it really, really hard. Everyone wants to win so bad. We were just so ready to play, so pumped and amped to just get these guys for beating us on our home court. He just made a really good shot at the end. That’s really all I can say.
“You can say all that [positivity], but if you don’t win it doesn’t really matter to me.”