CLEMSON, S.C. – The five folding chairs had been lugged onto the court and aligned in a neat row for the final media timeout of regulation, so Dez Wells marched up to the last one, raised his right arm high and whacked the cushion. The frustration had begun to bubble over, stewed together by failed possessions and the possibility of another disheartening loss. There were still two overtime periods left to play.
A 77-73 loss at Clemson contained every bit of deja-vu crammed into 50 minutes of sloppy, heart-pounding and ultimately demoralizing basketball for Maryland. There were the opportunities at the end of regulation to win it, possession after possession when the Terrapins could have excised their close-loss demons and finally beaten an ACC team with a winning record on the road under Coach Mark Turgeon. There were the chances in the first overtime, and then the second, when Maryland could have silenced a suddenly raucous home crowd and played its way into a tie with the Tigers in the conference standings. Instead, the Terps missed field-goal attempts and free throws at the worst times. Their defense buckled. And by the end, the afternoon had bled into another silent trip home.
“Could’ve gone either way,” Turgeon said after. “They made plays at the end, and we didn’t.”
The simplicity of these words – again, familiar after comparable losses – may rankle Terps fans growing increasingly agitated at another season headed toward the National Invitational Tournament, or worse. But it speaks to the enduring mentality within the program, a certain calmness and resolve from Turgeon, his assistants and his players. They truly believe they are close to breaking through the barriers separating them from relevance, even though it continues to elude them.
“It’s frustrating that we can’t ever come out with a W,” said point guard Seth Allen, who scored a team-high 20 points but needed 19 shots. “But there’s still a lot of season left to play. We still got a lot to play for. We just have to keep our heads up. It’s been tough, but that’s what basketball is. You just have to keep playing hard.”
Looking toward ACC tournament seedings, the Terps appear destined for either the 7-10 or 8-9 games, facing either Florida State, Clemson or North Carolina State. They are 1-3 against those teams this season, losing badly in Tallahassee and falling narrowly to an N.C. State team playing without the ACC’s leading scorer, T.J. Warren. Win that opening matchup, and it’s onto a top-two team like Virginia or Syracuse.
Of course, Maryland still has two regular-season games left: Tuesday at home versus Virginia Tech and next Sunday against the Cavaliers, who have already clinched their first conference title since 1981 and will be coming off a long break. If the Terps steal one against Virginia and take care of business versus the Hokies, they could carry some momentum into Greensboro.
“Kids are resilient,” Turgeon said. “It’s been tough; there’s no doubt about it. Today was tough. Double-overtime loss, play well enough, couldn’t get it done. We play Tuesday. I told the kids in the locker room, we have to have a short memory. We’ve got to get fresh. We got to figure out a way to play well Tuesday night and win.”
But they haven’t been able to sustain any momentum throughout the season, nor have they been able to beat better teams. They have come close, of course, losing to both Duke and Syracuse by two points, but those are notches in the loss column just the same. And say they split this week and lose in the opening round of the ACC tournament. Then Maryland will be sitting at 16-16, two games below .500 in league play which, as Patrick Stevens notes, has happened with surprising regularity over the past 11 years.
“We have to get on a roll before the ACC tournament,” Allen said. “We have to win these last two games … We have to get on a roll somehow.”