This wasn’t the kind of postgame meeting that Mark Turgeon was expecting to hold Wednesday night, but shortly after a disheartening, 89-75 loss to Minnesota at the Xfinity Center, the sixth-year coach strolled into the locker room and told his players not to panic. That was the prevailing takeaway that stuck with junior guard Jaylen Brantley, who reciprocated the message to reporters as he tried to explain how this game had slipped away from the Terrapins.
“I think if we just calm down and know how we’ve been playing all year, we’ll be fine. We’re 22-6. We’ve been playing great all season. We just can’t panic right now,” said Brantley, who scored eight of Maryland’s 31 bench points Wednesday night. That was just one of the numbers that suggested the Terrapins were in position to win. Turgeon’s team won the rebounding battle against the physically imposing Gophers, 42-36, including 16-6 on the offensive glass. It turned the ball over 10 times, a relatively low figure for a team often marred by self-inflicted mistakes. It shot 41 percent from the field and registered 30 field goals on 22 assists, achieving the kind of balance that Turgeon had demanded after Sunday’s 11-point loss to Wisconsin.
But Maryland also surrendered its most points in a game since last year’s shootout loss to North Carolina, and it spoiled a 35-34 halftime lead with consistent defensive breakdowns in the second half. Redshirt sophomore Ivan Bender, who led the team with a career-high 15 points, tried to sum it up the best he could afterward: Maryland simply had difficulty containing the penetration of Minnesota point guard Nate Mason (17 points), who facilitated a number of opportunities off ball-screens for teammates Dupree McBrayer (18 points), Akeem Springs (16 points) and Jordan Murphy (15 points).
“They were running one play for [Mason] … with a ball-screen. We were zoning up, like bigs. And guards were wide open, and they made shots,” Bender said.
Maryland’s struggles on the defensive end sped up the pace of the game, Turgeon said, and the Terrapins’ offense went cold when it mattered most. It didn’t help that the starting guards — Melo Trimble (11 points), Anthony Cowan Jr. (11 points) and Kevin Huerter (five points) — finished 10 for 35 from the field.
But Maryland also missed a string of easy looks at the rim, often settled for jump shots during the final eight minutes and went just 8 for 13 from the free throw line. One painful drought came after Trimble hit a three-pointer with 10:22 remaining to cut the lead to 59-56. Maryland didn’t connect on a field goal again until Cowan nailed a three-pointer with 5:49 to play. By that point, the deficit was eight, and it ballooned to 12 after Turgeon went volcanic and picked up a technical foul with 4:32 remaining after senior center Damonte Dodd was whistled for a foul. Maryland didn’t score again until the 3:12 mark on a layup by Trimble, but by then it was too late.
“If you really want to be technical and speak truthfully — because a lot of coaches don’t up here — we missed about four wide-open shots, and they made about four wide-open shots,” Turgeon said. “You reverse that, and we probably have a different outcome. But that’s the way it is. That’s the way it goes in basketball. But that’s why you guard every night, because you’re not going to make shots every night.”
While Turgeon refused to concede that his young team had hit a wall Wednesday, he admitted that there was a “correlation” between Maryland’s inability to get a stop and its offensive woes late in the game. He then promised that it will be ready to play Saturday at home against Iowa. There will be plenty of incentive. The school is honoring the Final Four team of 2001 and the national championship team of 2002. But beyond that, Maryland can’t afford another letdown at home after suffering a fourth loss in six games on Wednesday. With just three games to go, including a road trip to Rutgers next Tuesday and the season finale against Michigan State at home March 4th, the clock is ticking for Maryland to clinch a top-four seed for next month’s Big Ten tournament.
“We’ll figure it out. I love my team, but we didn’t play well. Minnesota was great tonight. It happens. We have to come back,” Turgeon said. “It’s a big day on Saturday. … There will be a lot of pride in the building.”