At a recent team meeting, a sobering experience for all involved, Coach Mark Turgeon laid everything on the line. Maryland had watched film from Sunday’s loss to Virginia, reliving the latest disappointment in a season where expectations haven’t quite aligned with reality.
After the projector was shut off and the lights turned on, Turgeon dealt consecutive blows. First he announced he had temporarily suspended point guard Pe’Shon Howard, one of the team’s two captains, for Saturday’s game against No. 2 Duke after violating team rules. Then Turgeon offered his unrestrained opinion about the Terrapins.
“It wasn’t pretty,” senior guard Logan Aronhalt said. “It was good, though. We all needed to hear that. It’s tough to hear, but guys need to hear it, and they need to learn that it’s tough. It’s college basketball. It’s tough every night out.”
As Maryland’s season putters along, waffling somewhere between the NCAA tournament bubble and relegation to the National Invitation Tournament, its recent six-day break between games provided some necessary soul-searching. A year once brimming with promise, filled with expectations of national rankings and postseason runs, has since devolved into a desperate struggle. The Terps (17-7, 5-6) enter Saturday with seven ACC games remaining. Of their remaining opponents, only Duke and North Carolina are ranked in the top 50 of RPI, a metric used by the NCAA tournament selection committee to rank teams. Plainly put, the avenue for impressive wins grows thinner by the minute.
If Turgeon’s words from Friday’s news conference hold true, Maryland will start three freshmen and two sophomores on Saturday for the second time this season. Lacking upperclassmen leadership and consistency throughout its rotation, the Terps keep fighting the same internal battles plaguing the program ever since conference play began.
Ever since a disastrous second half gave way to a 20-point loss at Duke on Jan. 26, Maryland’s offensive execution has improved. But the Terps still laid an egg against Virginia, outhustled at Comcast Center in an 11-point loss Sunday. Falling against Duke wouldn’t be considered a “bad loss” by selection committee standards, but for a program still yearning to find daylight along this murky road, it means everything.
“We need to be up,” Turgeon said. “We didn’t play very well Sunday, and we need to be up. I expect us to be up. Coaching staff, players, managers, everyone involved with our team. I expect them to be fired up and ready to go. We’re so young. Sometimes guys don’t really know what they’re getting into, so hopefully they just go out and play. I want our guys to be excited for the opportunity.”
Blessed with self-awareness and wisdom developed through four-plus years in college basketball, Aronhalt has become a team spokesman of sorts in sessions with reporters, offering pointed insight. Friday, the senior transfer painted the picture of a disjointed group, one that has allowed hubris to infiltrate the ranks and affect performances. The issues began surfacing when ACC play began. A 5-6 conference record only amplified them.
“We all have to be on the same page,” Aronhalt said. “At times, actually most of the time this season, we’ve been on different pages. Some guys are going all out. Some guys are coasting. We have to all be 100 percent from here on out.
“The biggest thing is guys think we’re a lot better than we are. Maybe we are that good, but we haven’t done anything to prove it. Haven’t won nearly enough games. At times, we’ve played against teams and just haven’t brought the energy. We have to understand that our talent is not enough to take us where we want to go.”
It certainly won’t suffice against the Blue Devils (22-2, 9-2), who have won six straight since getting manhandled at Miami on Jan. 23, but nearly fell at Boston College and squeaked past North Carolina at home this week. Some blown defensive assignments and rushed shot selection contributed to Duke’s runaway win over the Terps last month. After a week of tough practices, Maryland knows it must emerge with a heightened sense of urgency. Time is running out.
“I wouldn’t say it has anything to do with Duke,” Turgeon said. “Now it might be different today in practice. We had some pretty good, hard practices. It was more about Maryland. We’re young. We’ve got to get better. It’s not just about Duke on Saturday. It’s about the future.”