SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The final play that Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon drew up in Monday night's game against Syracuse was not complicated. Turgeon devised his plan with 56 seconds remaining and his team down by two, unwilling to let the ringing chaos of the Carrier Dome infiltrate his huddle as he delivered his instructions.
But panic settled in shortly thereafter. Turgeon wanted to get a quick shot for sophomore Kevin Huerter, who grew up just a short drive from here in Upstate New York and had dazzled with seven three-pointers on Monday night, but the Orange wouldn’t allow it with their 2-3 zone defense. The Orange bracketed Huerter. The shot clock ran down. The spacing fell apart. Sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. tried to create something that wasn’t there and lost control of the ball. Turgeon stomped his foot on the sideline.
“It kind of broke down a little bit. They overplayed a little bit,” said Huerter, who finished with 23 points.
It was perhaps the decisive offensive play in Maryland's 72-70 loss in the thrilling Big Ten/ACC Challenge game, but it was the first part of a breakdown for the Terrapins in the final minute. First, they suffered a defensive lapse and allowed Syracuse star Tyus Battle to hit a corner three-pointer to put the Orange up 68-66 with 1:04 left.
Then came Cowan’s turnover, and after two more free throws by Battle, Maryland had another chance to make it a one-possession game but committed another turnover when freshman Darryl Morsell couldn’t corral a pass in the middle of Syracuse’s zone with 13 seconds left. That marked Maryland’s 18th turnover, one more than its season average entering the night.
“I thought we played with poise. They’re really good. They’re long and quick and they get hands on balls. They make it difficult,” Turgeon said. “Just right now, we’re just not making enough plays at the end to win these close games.”
Playing its third game in four days, Maryland looked rested and calm in its first true road test of the season in one of college basketball’s loudest venues. The Terrapins could have easily had jitters. The Orange immediately swarmed with its zone, and the building gradually amplified to a louder decibel level as the night wore on. That included plenty of heckling; at one point, a Syracuse student sarcastically screamed: “You lost to St. Bonaventure!”
Maryland was indeed upset by the Bonnies in the Emerald Coast Classic in Florida on Friday night, and while the Terrapins bounced back with a victory over New Mexico on Saturday, they had something to prove against the Orange. It started out promising: The Terrapins hit five of their first eight shots and seemed to settle into an offensive groove. But Turgeon did not like his team’s defensive effort through the first 12 minutes — “They must have shot seven layups in the first 12 minutes of the game, maybe more,” he said — and that set the tone on a night when Syracuse grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and outscored Maryland 42-20 in the paint.
The only positive development on the interior came on a string of brilliant plays by freshman center Bruno Fernando, who scored 13 points and had three blocks for the fifth consecutive game. But Fernando encountered foul trouble in the second half, which forced Maryland to manufacture offense mostly on the perimeter. Huerter was up for the challenge, playing as though he might have felt slighted to not be on scholarship with the Orange, just down the road from where he grew up in Clifton Park, N.Y.
“This is probably a game you circle on the calendar,” Huerter said.
He played in front of hundreds of family and friends on Monday and showed maybe the most emotion of his young career, flailing his arms violently after hitting a pair of 25-foot bombs in the second half. Even as Maryland’s other sophomores struggled somewhat on the offensive end — Cowan finished with 11 points on 3-for-9 shooting, while Justin Jackson scored just eight points on 3-for-8 shooting — Huerter carried the load down the stretch.
He gave Maryland a one-point lead with a three-pointer with 1:42 remaining, and Maryland had a chance to extend the lead on the following possession after Fernando was fouled. But he missed the front end of the one-and-one free throw, and Battle made Maryland pay with the corner three-pointer that put Syracuse up by two with 59 seconds left.
Maryland squandered the next two possessions on turnovers by Cowan and Morsell. Huerter drained his seventh three-pointer with seven seconds left to pull Maryland within 70-69. But Battle broke free on the press-break during the inbound, finishing an easy bucket at the other end with five seconds to play. Turgeon told his team to leave this loss in the building, because in just four days the Terrapins will open Big Ten play against Purdue. But it still stung, knowing that Huerter’s brilliant homecoming had been spoiled — and that Maryland couldn’t get him a shot on its most pressure-packed possession of the night.
“You feel like you wasted one,” Turgeon said. “You feel like you wasted a great effort on his part. We’re a work in progress. We’re trying to figure it out.”