Mark Turgeon approached the Comcast Center lectern for his postgame news conference with a soft, protracted sigh. Following all of Maryland’s rocky letdowns this season, Turgeon has balanced heaping credit on the victors with expressing displeasure for his team’s shortcomings, manifested in whatever maddening fashion surfaced that particular night.
After a 79-68 loss to North Carolina that spoiled senior night, it was nothing but the latter.
“I’m disappointed,” Turgeon said, repeating that word twice more in his opening remarks. “I didn’t like that energy we started the game with. With that said, we couldn’t make a shot.”
Maryland’s worst shooting games have come against the Tar Heels, who closed the first half on a 10-0 run, supported by a sloppy Maryland offense that jacked up ill-advised three-pointers and coughed up transition turnovers.
With a snow-themed “White Out” in the stands and a pregame ceremony honoring seniors James Padgett and Logan Aronhalt at midcourt, Maryland returned home hoping to clarify its muddled postseason situation.
After missing 87 percent of its shots from beyond the arc, the only clarity might be this: The Terps need to string together an extended run through the ACC tournament to earn an NCAA tournament bid. Aronhalt and Seth Allen, who entered as the team’s most consistent outside shooters this season, were each 0 for 5 from beyond the arc.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, have been rejuvenated in recent weeks by a frantic four-guard lineup that, since adding P.J. Hairston to the mix, had forced 14.2 turnovers over six games and led Turgeon to call them “one of the hottest teams in the country right now.”
In their previous meeting, forward Reggie Bullock outscored the Terps himself by halftime, 21-20, in what turned into a resounding 62-52 rout in Chapel Hill, N.C. While Bullock notched a double-double with 12 rebounds and 19 points, 14 of which came after halftime, Hairston took his turn as the team’s destructive force, finishing with a game-high 22 on 7-of-15 shooting.
After halftime, everything spiraled out of control for a team that could ill afford a loss. Not even a raucous sellout crowd, stuffed with students mimicking the midgame celebrations debuted in Maryland’s upset over Duke, or two transition layups from Jake Layman off North Carolina turnovers, could spark the Terps over the massive hump.
“I know everyone gets caught up in that,” Turgeon said. “It’s easy to come back, guys. When you’re down 16, you’re just playing loose and that kind of stuff. To come back and win is different. Did the press help us? Yeah. It gave us a chance. I just don’t think that’s the answer. I just don’t think it’s the answer. We pressed Georgia Tech and it killed us. We press at Boston College, it killed us. Killed us. So I don’t think it’s the answer. But what we did tonight was we let our offense affect our defense and we didn’t guard well enough. We just didn’t guard well enough. We have to guard better than that.”
An 11-2, defensively-energized run spanning 56 seconds got Maryland’s deficit down to six, but a quick timeout by Coach Roy Williams catalyzed a 6-0 Tar Heels run that again swelled the deficit. Long caroms kept possessions alive as North Carolina made big shots when necessary, while the Terps continued to struggle from the outside.
“We’ve been playing behind all year. So that’s nothing new to us,” said Dez Wells, who finished with a team-high 18 points. “We cut it to six, and had a chance to get a really, really good possession defensively, and we didn’t get the stop we needed. That really hurt us a lot. With that being said, we gave great effort. We came out and played really hard. I’m proud of my guys who left it all out on the court.”