He had already been shaken by the repetitiveness of this trying year even before the latest blow was suffered, so Coach Mark Turgeon needed less than a second Monday night when asked if this Maryland men’s basketball season compared to any other in his career. “No,” he said during the postgame news conference, in a firm tone with his eyes locked ahead, and there were no more questions after that.
In a 57-55 loss to No. 4 Syracuse at Comcast Center, the Terrapins again encountered the Groundhog Day moments that have brought so much discontent to fans and players alike as February bleeds into March and the NCAA tournament once more seems unattainable. They came close to scoring an upset, watching point guard Seth Allen’s heave whack off the backboard and rim as time expired, but what good is close?
“It’s a little frustrating that we keep playing good basketball and we keep coming up short,” Allen said. “I don’t really know what to say on that.”
The season opener against Connecticut ended with a loss on a missed shot in the dying seconds, as did a heartbreaker last weekend at Duke. So as Monday night steamrolled toward another wild finish, the Terps felt they had finally breached the wall keeping them from victory in their five previous attempts this season against ranked teams. After all, fate was in their hands.
When Syracuse forward C.J. Fair (17 points) bricked a shot off the front rim, Maryland guard Dez Wells barreled down the floor. Less than 10 seconds remained on the clock and Wells had already taken over at intermission, but the junior encountered traffic and passed to teammate Nick Faust. Faust soared toward the rim, where he was met by a flurry of Orange defenders. Contact was made, that much is certain, but no whistle was blown.
“I thought Nick got fouled,” said Turgeon, who stomped far onto the court to protest. “I think the replay showed that. But it’s been that kind of year for us.”
It was exactly the favorable call Syracuse had hoped for Saturday night at Duke, when Coach Jim Boeheim earned his first career ejection after a late charge was called on Fair. Turgeon mimicked Boeheim in the way he stormed the floor, but significantly less profanity kept him on the sideline as Syracuse’s Trevor Cooney made 1 of 2 free throws and Allen’s prayer misfired.
Later, Boeheim was told about Turgeon’s comments and reacted strongly.
“Well, first of all, let me just tell you this,” he said. Maryland “shot 27 free throws. If anybody’s going to complain about the officiating, I’m going to complain. And I think I did enough of that Saturday. I don’t think I have to repeat that again.”
A brief silence fell before Boeheim continued.
“If they didn’t turn it over 18 times, they wouldn’t have had to worry about that,” he said, dropping his voice into a mutter. “Don’t complain about that call. Are you kidding me?”
All evening the Terps (15-13, 7-8 ACC) committed nearly every turnover imaginable. Many were unforced. They were reckless in transition, stumbling through the open court. They were careless against the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense, trying to throw chest passes that were easily swatted. Other than Wells and Allen, no player made more than one shot, while the Orange (26-2, 13-2) got a team-high 20 points from freshman phenom Tyler Ennis.
“You guys saw the game,” said Wells, who finished with 15 points, 13 of them after halftime. “We’ve got to do better.”
After other similar losses this season, Wells had tried to keep morale afloat by staying positive. Monday was no different. The Terps had sliced through a 12-point second-half deficit, largely thanks to their full-court press, and sent a sellout crowd into a frenzy with the comeback. Three games remain in the regular season and then the ACC tournament, so Wells hoped for a run there. But there was exhaustion in his words, a sentiment echoed by Turgeon and his players alike.
“It’s disappointing,” the third-year coach said, after the latest loss in a season filled with disappointment.