RALEIGH, N.C. — Disaster had again found the Maryland men’s basketball team, so even its most optimistic player could sugarcoat matters no more. “It’s a bad loss for us,” said sophomore Charles Mitchell, who even in the dimmest of moments Monday night was still whistling along to the stadium soundtrack. “We’re better than that team. We know we’re better than that team.”
A 65-56 emotional clubbing against North Carolina State had torched every bit of happiness for the Terrapins, who were buried in equal parts anger and bewilderment by a replacement starter. The happy-go-lucky persona, built five days ago during a win over Notre Dame that again offered hope of a midseason turnaround, was gone, and few fruitful things remained among the wreckage.
Just before tip-off, news trickled through PNC Arena that forward T.J. Warren, the ACC’s leading scorer, had been sidelined with a left ankle sprain. He missed practice Sunday and didn’t even appear for warmups, so Terps Coach Mark Turgeon felt compelled to gather his players together and offer a gentle reminder that the Wolfpack had other weapons, too.
Before long, they forgot.
As Warren watched wearing a sweatshirt on the bench, his replacement in the starting lineup, junior guard Ralston Turner, matched his career high with 23 points. The Terps lost him in transition. They tried to duck under screens and paid dearly, squandering a nine-point halftime lead that flipped into another night of bitterness.
“I personally felt like we were playing the last five minutes like it was the middle of the first half,” said forward Evan Smotrycz, who along with Dez Wells finished with 10 points, the only Terps in double figures. “We didn’t really make the smart plays. We’re too talented to be taking the shots we take and not making them because we’re rushing. I think we need to be a little more unselfish and let our offense work and not break things off too quick.”
Soon, in the final regular season conference meeting between these two longtime foes, chants of “A-C-C, A-C-C” rang out in a building once worried about life without Warren. “Leave your $50 million and go home,” one fan yelled, a reference to Maryland’s withdrawal payment not yet paid, and as the Wolfpack finished the game with free throws, guard Desmond Lee preened toward the student section for more noise.
With a weekend rematch against Pittsburgh just around the bend, the Terps knew the importance of sneaking road wins during conference play, any way possible. They had just four ACC wins away from College Park under Turgeon, and as point guard Seth Allen succinctly put it, “It’s that time of the year.”
After opening the night with nine straight scoreless possessions, the Terps broke through during a frigid first half when Nick Faust pulled up for a three-pointer in transition and celebrated by zooming onto defense like an airplane.
Turgeon had hoped for focus and energy after a long afternoon of lounging around the team hotel, neither of which Maryland showed after halftime when two straight turnovers turned into Wolfpack buckets. Suddenly, an 11-point lead was chopped to 31-28, and the crowd erupted as Turgeon tapped his shoulders to call a timeout.
With Allen relegated to the bench by foul trouble, the Terps struggled to get into their offensive sets, and Turner tied the game at 36 on a three-pointer. Baskets were traded. Allen (eight points) reentered and got hot, but Turner — the only Wolfpack regular shooting above 30 percent from deep this season — answered with two more threes as N.C. State regained the lead, their first since it was 9-8.
From there, Turner couldn’t miss and the Terps couldn’t answer. They shot 29.7 percent in the second half, while the Wolfpack, one of the nation’s worst three-point shooting teams, made 56.7 percent. Haphazard defense created easy layups for N.C. State, as if the sudden success absent of Warren had stunned Maryland into submission.
“It’s where we are right now,” Turgeon said. “I wish we played tomorrow, but we don’t. We’ve got another five-day layoff here to prepare for Pittsburgh. We’re all disappointed.