Shaquille Cleare didn’t sleep after Maryland lost to Florida State on Wednesday night at Comcast Center. Memories of mistakes kept stunting the freshman’s drowsiness, with missed opportunities replaying in Cleare’s head like a horror film on a loop.
His stomach churned while thinking about the Terrapins’ nightmarish second half, when the Seminoles overcame a 12-point deficit to win by three. He wondered if better offensive execution or more physical rebounding or smarter defense could have prevented the loss, Maryland’s first in two months. Cleare never needed his alarm clock Thursday morning, but moments of self-reflection provided a necessary eye-opener.
“Because I care it really bothered me, but it’s a great learning experience,” said Cleare, a freshman center. “What cheered me up a little bit was that all great teams lose games. I just think it’s a great learning experience, we have to bounce back and learn from it. I had to think about it. You always lose one. It’s bumpy but now we have to bounce back, pick our heads up and go to war again on Sunday.”
Cleare wasn’t alone in receiving a wake-up call. Up ahead looms a trip to Coral Gables, Fla., where Maryland (13-2, 1-1 ACC) has lost six straight to Miami (11-3, 2-0)dating from 2004. It’s also Maryland’s second true road test this season and first conference road game for the six newcomers in Coach Mark Turgeon’s 10-man rotation.
There’s a fine line between dwelling on past defeats and turning the disappointment into motivation, but the Terrapins seem defiant enough as they realize losing early in their ACC schedule is far better than collapsing in March.
“The loss, the guys took it hard, because they know they didn’t play well,” Turgeon said. “I don’t want to start writing all this stuff, Florida State was really good. They had just as much to do with it. And we were good the first half. We make some open shots, it’s a different game. We were really good. We were ready to play. It’s just when things didn’t go well, the home crowd starts to panic a little bit, that’s when we didn’t handle it very well. The guys, they lost sleep over it, they were disappointed, but they’re kids. Kids are resilient, they’ll bounce back.”
Maryland rarely faced adversity during its 13-game winning streak, which began after a three-point, season-opening loss to Kentucky in Brooklyn on Nov. 9. The Terps’ average margin of victory was nearly 20 points, including a 23-point blowout of Virginia Tech in their ACC opener. Only four games before the loss to Florida State were decided by single digits. Some of the rest, like a 100-68 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore on Dec. 5, Cleare called “JV games.”
But panic arose Wednesday night. The Seminoles emerged after halftime with a fighter’s mentality, crashing the boards with reckless abandon and extinguishing a once-sizable Terps lead. Veterans and underclassmen alike struggled under pressure; Turgeon didn’t fare much better and shouldered the blame afterward.
In the locker room, sophomore Dez Wells told his teammates to dwell into the night, to shed tears and shake the frustration away. While Cleare tossed and turned, Wells called friends and family to talk over the mistakes, returning to Comcast Center the next morning ready for film work, which generated a mixture of anger and motivation.
“It’s just one loss,” Wells said. “We won 13 straight games. You get the first loss, it feels like six or seven losses. But it’s just one. All of our mistakes are very correctable. We’re just focusing on the next game, the next task at hand, ready to get this road win. You see where your team is and how you respond. It’s not about losing, it’s about how you respond from losing.”
Maryland’s answer could dictate the tone for a trying January stretch; it includes games at North Carolina, top-ranked Duke and Florida State, as well as a home date Wednesday with No. 20 North Carolina State; the Wolfpack is coming off a victory over Duke Saturday.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have won three straight since an ugly holiday tournament in Hawaii though they are without injured center Reggie Johnson.
More than handling the pressure, Turgeon wants the Terrapins to reclaim a lost identity, returning to the pass-heavy offense and stingy defense that tied the program’s longest winning streak since 1931-32. At one point against Florida State, Turgeon said, one player who fell to the ground was helped by just one teammate.
“I can handle winning and losing, all that stuff. I just want us to play well, and play together,” Turgeon said. “That’s not us. Guy falls on the floor, should be four guys helping him up. We weren’t us. If we’re us and we lose, I’m okay with it.”