Maybe Evan Smotrycz heard the sporadic boos from a Comcast Center crowd growing increasingly frustrated with the Maryland men’s basketball team. Maybe it was a talking point decided upon before he addressed the media. Maybe the junior forward has simply played enough college basketball to realize that, after disappointments like this, the burden of blame falls upon Coach Mark Turgeon.
“Anytime you lose, no matter who it’s to really, people don’t think he’s doing a good job or we’re not doing a good job,” Smotrycz said. “With the players that’s tough, because we really respect him. Personally I’d run through a wall for the guy. I think he does a great job. This is in no way a reflection of him.”
The problems facing Turgeon after an 83-77 loss to Boston University are legion, and once again he addressed the media with few answers to offer. The Terriers gashed his team’s defense with great ease, ball screen defense a foreign concept to the hosts. Maryland coughed up 17 turnovers, including 11 by halftime, and shot below 60 percent on free throws. What open looks the Terrapins mustered, many clanged off the back iron or went in and out.
Depth remains a problem, mainly because Turgeon has developed little trust in anyone beyond the eight players currently rotating onto the floor. That’s why, he said, Dez Wells and Jake Layman played 36 minutes apiece, and why when Wells asked for a breather, the coach told his star player no.
“That’s part of the problem,” Turgeon said. “That lies with me. I should have had a few more players on board. I didn’t. Won’t happen again, as long as I can control it. Our guys are trying hard. They’re just not playing smart, then when the game’s on the line, we don’t quite come up with that loose ball. I could go on and on about that.”
There were plenty topics to address, but both Layman (14 points) and Smotrycz (15 points and 13 rebounds) went out of their way to heap praise onto Turgeon. He seemed almost defeated – or at the very least eager to dip away for the holidays – when asked about Maryland’s struggles, but his players insisted on taking the blame, saying that such bewilderment doesn’t translate into the locker room.
“With us coach is very positive,” Layman said. “We all know he’s one of the best coaches out there. Anything he tells us, if he says he’s going to bring us back to where we need to be, we’re all in.”
Said Smotrycz: “He’s how he always is. Personally, I want to play really well for him. I think he does a great job and I know the guys in the locker room really respect him as a coach. We just want to execute this game plan. Right now we aren’t getting the bounces and aren’t doing enough. We have to come back and work that much harder.”
Perhaps an eight-day break bracketing Christmas will serve the Terps well and help clear their minds from a second home non-conference loss, but they had a week to prepare for the Patriot League favorites and still fell behind by 10 points at intermission. Maryland did a solid job shutting down leading scorer Maurice Watson, but his distribution (seven assists) opened up opportunities for less heralded scorers like D.J. Irving (game-high 25 points) and reserve Cedric Hankerson (14 points).
“The one thing is we can’t score 77 at home and lose,” Turgeon said, over one month after Maryland scored 83 points at home and lost to Oregon State. “Maybe it’s on the defensive end. We’ve got to figure out if we can get a shot blocker in there, see if we can get our big guys playing better. We have no presence at the rim. Just defend better. We’re trying to press, trying to zone, do all this stuff to kick-start us. The bottom line is you have to be able to guard better.”
With two non-conference games against Tulsa and North Carolina Central left before the bulk of ACC play begins, Maryland still feels it can right the ship. But as the damaging losses pile up and the chances for impressive wins winnows – remember, the Terps don’t host any Research Triangle school this season – the frustrating is mounting in College Park, even if the players otherwise remain defiant.
“He’s confident in us,” forward Jon Graham said of Turgeon. “I know that for a fact. He believes in us as a group, and we have to believe in him and believe in each other. For the most part we do that. Today was just a bad day. Things will get better.”