All season long, Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon has voiced frustration with his team’s inconsistency, tempering praise for his young players with pleas for sustained intensity in practice and games alike.
Maryland fans experienced that frustration first-hand Tuesday at Comcast Center, where the Terps followed their most dominant performance in a game’s first half with a dreadful second half, going more than 11 minutes without a field goal and allowing what had been a 23-point lead to be slashed to one.
With Turgeon refusing to call a timeout, the Terps finally figured out how to right themselves (as the coach, in effect, demanded) and pulled out a 70-62 victory over Cornell, padding the final margin with repeated trips to the free throw line.
With it, Maryland extended its winning streak to seven games and improved to 10-3. But if ever a victory was cause for alarm, this was it.
With its ACC opener at N.C. State looming on Sunday, Maryland remains a team that struggles to sustain leads, doesn’t instinctively toughen up when smacked in the face and tends to rush shots — rather than carefully consider them — when opponents make a run.
But when Maryland’s shooting and defense went south against Cornell, the Terps leaned on the poise and resurgent shooting of senior Sean Mosley, who scored a game-high 19 points, and the inside advantage of its 7-foot-1 freshman center Alex Len, to eke out another close victory.
“It was so easy for us early,” Turgeon said of his Terps, who shot 63 percent from the field in the first half and 28 percent in the second half. “And we do what young teams do when it’s going easy: We think it’s going to be easy the whole game, so we quit guarding. We shot too quickly, got a little selfish and turned the ball over.”
Maryland won the teams’ only previous meeting, 92-41. And Tuesday’s rematch appeared to be on that pace, with Maryland bolting to a 28-5 lead.
Cornell (4-9) was jittery at the start, lofting two air balls and turning the ball over twice in the opening minutes. Without a player approaching Len’s height or forward James Padgett’s heft, Cornell used a guard-heavy rotation and cast its fortunes beyond the arc, attempting 30 three-pointers (and making just seven).
Cornell’s shooting improved as the game unfolded. And with a buzzer-beating layup, the Big Red pared what had been a 23-point deficit to 15 at the break.
Maryland was a mess in the second half, missing one layup after another and slacking off on defense.
And Cornell ripped off 13 unanswered points to make it 43-39 with 13 minutes 47 seconds remaining, while Maryland turned the ball over five times in that span.
A turnaround jumper by Cornell’s Eitan Chemerinski of Potomac (10 points) made it a one-point game.
With Maryland 0 of 9 from field, the only points the Terps could muster came from the free-throw line. Mosley finally snapped the Terps’ drought with a jumper at 8:34 that made it 49-46.
And in a frantic sequence, Len got a put-back and pumped his right fist as fans stood and cheered. Len then converted the three-point play and repeated the sequence less than a minute later before drawing a fourth foul with 5:25 to play.
Mosley struck again and grabbed a huge defensive rebound after Cornell missed a three-pointer that would have claimed the lead.