RALEIGH, N.C. — The Maryland men’s basketball team had managed to shipwreck itself at many crucial junctures this season and another opportunity offered itself here Monday night. A double-digit lead against shorthanded North Carolina State seemed zapped in an instant, but the Terrapins were clinging onto hope of salvaging something among the collapse until they kept losing the one man they couldn’t afford to lose.
“They started making shots,” forward Charles Mitchell said later. “I don’t even know the kid’s name, number 22. He started making shots.”
Number 22 was Ralston Turner, and perhaps Mitchell could be forgiven for not remembering his name. A half-hour before tip-off, the junior guard had been summoned into emergency starting duties when T.J. Warren, the ACC’s leading scorer, was scratched with a sprained left ankle. The Wolfpack were only two days removed from consecutive 30-point losses, so the prospect of Warren’s absence offered even more hope for Maryland.
That is, until Turner lit up the second half and scorched the Terps with a career-high 23 points, burning with it any notion of momentum generated by the visitors last week. Maryland had come to PNC Arena in desperate need of a winning streak — even two would suffice — and here seemed the perfect chance, up nine points when forward Jake Layman beat the buzzer with a three-pointer. Center Shaq Cleare made it 11 on a right hook to open the second half.
Minutes later, though, N.C. State was surging as the Terps stumbled backward. Three turnovers in four possessions helped trim the lead to 31-28. Left to shoulder the scoring load without Warren dominating every possession, Turner listened to Coach Mark Gottfried say, “Miss ’em early, make ’em late, but keep shooting.” After an off-kilter first half from the field, Turner soon tied the game at 36 and buried another three-pointer from the top fo the key to put the Wolfpack back ahead. They never trailed again.“Just defensive mistakes, mental mistakes,” Turgeon said. “They happen. Sometimes the mistakes happen and they don’t make you pay for them. Tonight the kid did.”
A couple rushed shots by Maryland and several more deep makes from Turner gave the crowd license to start mocking the Terps with chants of “A-C-C.”
“Like I said before, it comes down to execution and poise to win on the road,” said Mitchell, who snagged 18 rebounds but scored just eight points on 11 shots. “We executed, but we weren’t making shots and we didn’t have the poise to make great defensive plays. Everybody’s down. Well, we’re not down because we’ve got the next game. We can’t think about this one. We have to move on.”
Once again, what choice do they have but to internalize the disappointment — of which there has already been so much this soon into ACC play — and look ahead towards hosting Pittsburgh on Saturday, a chance to avenge a 20-point loss?
Later, Turgeon chalked it up to “college basketball” and said “it’s where we are right now.” Mitchell scrambled to inject optimism into his comments, but began by calling the night “a bad loss.” Forward Evan Smotrycz (10 points) seemed to place blame on himself and his teammates for not answering in kind when the Wolfpack were threatening.
“We just didn’t make right plays down the stretch,” Smotrycz said. “I personally felt like we were playing the last five minutes like it was the middle of the first half. We didn’t really make the smart plays. We’re too talented to be taking the shots we take and not making them because we’re rushing. I think we need to be a little more unselfish and let our offense work and not break things off too quick.”
Through halftime, Maryland appeared headed for an ugly win, shooting poorly but doing just enough to squeak past the Warren-less Wolfpack. But the Terps shot 29.7 percent in the second half, notched just 16 second-chance points on 22 offensive rebounds and offered open look after open look to Turner.
As the crowd grew more raucous, waving goodbye to Raleigh native Dez Wells (10 points) after he fouled out and screaming about Maryland’s ACC exit fee, the Terps grew sloppier on both ends. They lost Turner on ball screens, sometimes on the “corner” set N.C. State once ran so often for sharpshooter Scott Wood. They cut short offensive possessions with push-off fouls or moving screens. Seth Allen (3 for 12), Wells (2 for 11), Layman (2 for 8) and Nick Faust (1 for 7) all had forgettable nights from the field.
“We have enough experience,” Smotrycz said. “Guys have played enough minutes in enough road games to know how they should play on the road. We haven’t been as composed as we need to.”