As Mark Turgeon walked in to meet with reporters Saturday afternoon, he turned to Maryland Sports Information Director Doug Dull and, in an almost plaintive tone, asked, “What do I say?”
Dull knew there was no real answer to the question after Virginia had outscored Maryland by a humiliating 40-13 margin in the second half en route to a 71-44 victory. He gave it a shot anyway. “You had less than 40 hours to prepare,” he said.
Turgeon shook his head. “No. That’s just an excuse.”
One thing Turgeon has proven throughout the ups and downs of his first season at Maryland: making excuses isn’t in his makeup. He knew his team had been victimized by the ACC’s “all that matters is TV” approach to scheduling. His players didn’t get out of Comcast Center until midnight on Friday morning after their victory over Boston College. They had to fight through brutal traffic Friday to get here and had just about zero time to prepare to play a desperate team on its home court.
“It might not have made any difference the way they played,” Turgeon said. “But yeah, it was hard.”
Turgeon was lavish in his praise of Virginia’s performance, and with good reason. The Cavaliers, who hadn’t played since Tuesday, had lost two in a row and three of four and had gone from figuring out where they might be seeded in the NCAA tournament to perhaps worrying about being on the bubble. With games on the road against Virginia Tech and Maryland and home games against Florida State and North Carolina remaining, Saturday fell only a little bit short of the do-or-be-terrified category.
“Huge,” Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett said. “We got some help for Mike [Scott] and got back to guarding the way we can guard. I don’t know if we’ve got enough wins for the [NCAA] tournament, but this was one we absolutely had to have.”
The easy way to analyze this game is to look at the numbers of each team’s best player. Scott, who is a legitimate candidate for ACC player of the year, played under control most of the day and finished with 25 points on 10-of-20 shooting and seven rebounds.
He also had one assist, which is significant only because it was one more than Terrell Stoglin had for Maryland.
Stoglin has been responsible for a number of Maryland’s victories this season. Saturday, with plenty of help from his teammates, he played a major role in the Terrapins not only losing, but being embarrassed.
During one stretch of just less than 90 seconds in the first half, he hit three straight three-pointers to key a startling 11-0 run that vaulted Maryland from a 24-15 deficit to a 26-24 lead. In the other 27 minutes he played, Stoglin, who passes the ball about as often as an option quarterback, was 1 of 14 from the field (0 of 7 in the second half) and had assist-to-turnover numbers fairly close to his norm for the season: zero assists, two turnovers. For the season, he has 50 assists and 60 turnovers.
“He can make some unbelievable shots,” Bennett said. “The threes he made during that stretch in the first half were all guarded. We know he can do that, I’ve seen him do it on tape all year. Look, they had nine field goals in the first half, seven of them threes. If they had kept that up, well, there’s not much you can do.”
The Terrapins couldn’t keep it up. For 21 minutes, it looked like this was going to be a game decided by who made shots late. Except that Maryland stopped making shots completely, producing five second-half field goals — none from beyond the three-point arc.
After James Padgett put the Terrapins ahead, 33-31, on the opening possession of the second half, they went into a complete offensive funk. Virginia went on a 16-0 run to take control and Turgeon finally cleared his bench to give the walk-ons some minutes with 3 minutes 45 seconds left and his team down 62-42.
“I’d just had enough of selfishness, not boxing out, not defending,” Turgeon said. “You can go down our whole list, and if you can find a player who played well today, I’ll argue that you’re wrong.”
Turgeon knows that 15-11 overall and 5-7 in the ACC isn’t bad for a team that started the season without point guard Pe’Shon Howard because of a broken foot and now will finish it without him after he tore his ACL.
What’s more, 7-foot-1 freshman Alex Len, who shows flashes of huge potential, also manages to be invisible for lengthy stretches. On Saturday, Len played 20 minutes and didn’t score. That’s not good, but it can happen.
He also had zero rebounds. That should be impossible for someone his size.
That’s why Turgeon doesn’t want to kill his team or Stoglin even when Stoglin’s play is making Turgeon old long before his time. When someone asked if he would consider taking freshman Nick Faust off the point because Faust is clearly not cut out to play the position, Turgeon shook his head.
“If we put Terrell on the point, we might go 17 possessions where nobody else touches the ball,” he said. Realizing how that sounded, he caught himself. “Of course he gets frustrated sometimes because guys don’t finish.”
A few minutes later, standing outside his locker room, Turgeon shook his head. “We did get tired,” he said. “But I can’t let them off the hook. We need to keep competing even when it’s tough.”
For Bennett, the day was as sweet as it was bitter for Turgeon. As the final seconds ticked off, he went down his bench congratulating each of his players for being ready to play when they absolutely had to be ready to do so.
Then he went to offer a consoling handshake to Turgeon, who was pretty much inconsolable.
“We’ll be better,” Turgeon said as he headed for the door.
No doubt they will. Two years ago, during Bennett’s first season, Virginia was 15-16.
The Cavaliers won their 20th game of the season Saturday. Something for Turgeon to look forward to down the road.
Just not on this day.
For John Feinstein’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/feinstein. For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.