HIGH POINT, N.C. – At least twice over the past week, Coach Mark Turgeon has summoned the ghosts of Jan. 12 to explain just how bad his Maryland men’s basketball team was that night in Tallahassee, Fla., and how much better things have been since. Losing by 24 points to Florida State, Turgeon said, was the last time this season the Terrapins were humiliated.
“Like, it’s embarrassing to watch that film,” point guard Seth Allen said following practice Wednesday at Wesleyan Christian Academy.
The horror show unfolded beneath a barrage of three-pointers, of which the host Seminoles made 18. Maryland didn’t help its cause, failing to guard Florida State’s sets and leaving players open. But today, on the eve of their final ACC tournament appearance and a rubber match with the Seminoles, the Terps can reflect on that thorough drubbing and take solace in how far they’ve come since.
“I remember my first loss in my first championship game when I was 7,” guard Dez Wells said, when asked how much of that game he remembers. “You don’t forget things.”
The road from Tallahassee found its most exciting moment Sunday, when Maryland upset then-No. 5 Virginia to end the regular season. Though the Terps have still been a .500 team after Florida State, going 7-7 in league play since that loss, the closeness of defeats to Virginia, Duke, Syracuse and Clemson has left Turgeon feeling like he is coaching an entirely different team.
At the very least, Thursday’s noon tip-off will present an entirely different game than the two regular-season meetings between Maryland and Florida State. In the first, the Seminoles couldn’t miss from three-point range. In the second, they were without leading scorer Ian Miller and lost at Comcast Center by 12 points.
“The first game, they were good but we were bad on defense,” Allen said. “They hit a lot of shots, but we really helped them. We weren’t good at defense at all. We watched that film and we’re past that. From that game on, our team has grown together more. Defensively, we’ve guarded way better than that. … When we played them at our place, we guarded all their sets the right way and we really executed.”
Having Allen explode for a career-high 32 points also helped. It was the sophomore’s best game in a Maryland uniform, magnified by how well he played within the offense. He made 7 of 10 three-pointers but few of them felt rushed, the type of quick shots that has frustrated Turgeon since Allen returned from a broken foot.
It juxtaposed with Allen’s performance at Florida State, statistically the least efficient offensive game of his college career. He took eight shots, including six threes, and made zero. He finished with one point.
“When I played at Florida State, I wasn’t really healthy and I was just out of it,” he said. “I looked lackadaisical, I didn’t have any energy. As time went on I got healthier and healthier, so when we played at our place…Florida State is a great team defensively, so you really have to execute against them or you won’t get good shots. You can’t just run through the motions and not set good screens because they’re so good defensively that you have to execute your plays to score on them.”
The Terps still need a miracle to reach the NCAA tournament, likely four wins over four days to take the conference title at the Greensboro Coliseum and earn the automatic bid. Otherwise, the National Invitational Tournament should come calling.
Maryland has proven itself more adept in short-rest situations, like when it won the Paradise Jam in November or upset Duke here last March, and beating the Cavaliers has infused more confidence into the locker room, certainly more than whatever remained after the bludgeoning of Jan. 12.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to beat Florida State, and then it becomes a tournament,” Turgeon said. “Not just one game. Our guys are confident. We’re not just saying it to say it. I think our guys are confident they’re a good tournament team. What they mean by that is they’re good at quick turnarounds. But it doesn’t become a tournament if we lose tomorrow.”
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