Rarely will a basketball team miss 13 free throws, commit 15 turnovers and still manage to win on the road. Twice Maryland saw sizable leads disappear, allowing Virginia Tech to scratch back into Thursday’s game as the Cassell Coliseum crowd howled, sensing an opportunity to bury the visiting Terrapins.
So forgive Coach Mark Turgeon if he entered the postgame media room following a 60-55 Maryland win and announced his desire to wrap things up quickly. The Terps had a late plane to catch from Roanoke, but there was the unmistakable feeling that they had just swiped one from beneath Virginia Tech’s nose.
Midway through its ACC schedule, Maryland can ill-afford letdowns like the one it endured during a 10-minute stretch in the first half, when its offense disappeared and the Hokies slowly chipped away at an 11-point lead. Nor can it afford to miss 13 free throws and nearly gift-wrap a win to the home team, only to survive a few harrowing trips to the charity stripe.
“I’ll state the obvious,” Turgeon said in his opening statement. “It’s good to get a road win. I thought we started both halves real well, then we weren’t very good in stretches.”
And that about sums these Terps up – brilliant in spurts, sluggish in others, enigmatic throughout. Little big-picture knowledge can be taken from this win, because beating Virginia Tech isn’t exactly a resume-strengthener. The Hokies sank to 2-7 in the ACC and have lost five straight, though they’ve led Miami, North Carolina and now Maryland at halftime over the past three games.
This one meant more for short-term confidence in the locker room than bolstering national perception. The Terps have won two straight, appear to have figured out some of their offensive issues and finally secured an ACC road win for the first time in exactly one year. But a loss to Virginia Tech would have done tremendous harm for a team with few chances at quality wins remaining. Of Maryland’s remaining opponents, only North Carolina (32nd in the RPI) and Duke (first) rank in the top 100. Virginia, Sunday’s opponent and winner of five of its past six (including its biggest ACC win in 30 years on Thursday night), is 101st. The Terps, for reference, are 62nd.
Asked whether his thoughts drifted toward the postseason while facing Virginia Tech, Dez Wells allowed his mind to wander before settling on the stock answer.
“We were just worried about our next game,” Wells said. “Finish out the season the best way we can, going into the ACC tournament, ready to win it. Whatever happens after that, we have to be prepared for whatever comes to us.”
What follows will undoubtedly be a stretch of games similar to the one Maryland squeaked out in Blacksburg. Games at Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia will be no cakewalks, especially in a topsy-turvy ACC where giants seem to mysteriously fall on the road every day.
Maryland is no giant, nor does it pretend to be. It can take plenty from beating Virginia Tech, from stealing a road win without damaging the collective confidence. Turgeon keeps talking about his Terps “growing up” which, like their offense, seems to arrive in sporadic waves.
Nick Faust, for instance, atoned for his misses at Florida State with two huge free throws down the stretch. But he made just 1 of 6 field goal attempts and is shooting 24.3 percent on the road this season. Dez Wells locked down Erick Green in the final minute but committed four turnovers, including a skip pass that Green intercepted with 10 seconds left and the Terps up five points. As a team, Maryland emerged from the gates on fire, but finished the first half with three points in its final 15 possessions.
“I get so frustrated,” Turgeon said. “We were getting to the rim and missing, missing open looks. I thought maybe once again, maybe I was trying too hard, trying different things. I thought we got good looks. Maybe it was quick. I don’t know. Only problem is we let our offense affect our defense during the stretch. That’s when they made their run. We can’t do that. Can’t let our offense affect our defense.”
Had Virginia Tech seized the moment, the Terps would have suffered a damaging loss. For now, they’re perfectly content to scamper out of town and onto the runway, taking the notch in the win column but little else.
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