Without getting into the unwarranted court storming at Comcast Center following Maryland’s 51-50 victory over NC State last night, it’s important to address this Terps basketball team.
Coming into the year, expectations for this team were high. At least mine were. Despite head coach Mark Turgeon expressing his concern over the maturity and chemistry of his young team, I chalked it up as Turg being Turg — humble and professional. Clearly the guy was sleeping on something hot and he didn’t want to stoke the fire before conference play. He may not have had freshmen like Calipari, but he had some talent and serious potential. Staying medium was understandable.
After losing a close one to Kentucky at the Barclays Center to open the season, the Terps rolled through their non-conference cupcake schedule with relative ease, defeating opponents by an average margin of almost 19 points. Alex Len appeared to improve handedly over the offseason, freshmen were getting meaningful minutes and Dez Wells was a blessing in disguise.
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Maryland opened up conference play on the first Saturday in January when they hosted Virginia Tech at Comcast. The game wasn’t close. Freshman Jake Layman started in place of Nick Faust and ended up going off for 20; other than Erick Green, you had to squint to see the rest of the Hokies team; and the Terps walked away with a decisive 94-71 victory.
Four days later, Maryland hosted a Florida State team that seemingly caught the Terps off guard with enough size and athleticism to match. Maryland held a 36-27 lead at halftime but never thought to put their opponent away. And what happens when you allow your opponent to stick around? You lose. The Terps did, 65-62.
The Terps would then head to South Beach four days later to take on the Miami Hurricanes who were without their 6’10, 290-pound center Reggie Johnson. Turgeon announced that freshman Shaquille Cleare would start alongside Alex Len in the front court and the game plan seemed to be taking advantage of Miami’s injuries and attacking with size down low.
In quite arguably the worst college basketball game of the season between two credible teams, Miami held a 19-14 lead over Maryland at halftime. The Terps were shooting 25 percent from the floor, the Canes 29. It was borderline unsufferable. And while the game would eventually pick up in the second half, it didn’t get any prettier. Maryland shot 31 percent for the game and went 3-of-15 from long range. They lost to a superior Miami team, 54-47.
This wasn’t the way I envisioned Maryland starting off in the ACC. I pictured three straight wins before being contested by NC State, prevailing, and then preparing for North Carolina on January 19 in Chapel Hill.
Instead, the Terps are sitting at 1-2 in conference play, they have 32 turnovers in their past two games and NC State — a very good offensive team — is stomping into Comcast. Suddenly, with North Carolina and Duke coming up in the next two weeks, this game against No. 14 NC State is a must-win.
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Once again, Maryland didn’t play well. They held a 22-16 lead over the Wolfpack at halftime and their defense outside of the paint, I suppose, deserved some credit. They finished the game shooting 34 percent from the floor and tacked on another 13 turnovers. Frustration was at the point of boiling when you’d look down to see a 10-point lead, only to be erased seconds later and NC State breathing down Maryland’s neck again.
As a fan, I’m obviously estatic that Maryland sneaked out with the win. They didn’t play well enough to win and they were lucky that NC State didn’t either. As Mark Turgeon noted after the game, “sometimes you need a little luck.”
Trailing by one with under 10 seconds left in the game, the Terps inbounded the ball to Pe’Shon Howard. The Wolfpack chose not to foul, Howard drove the lane left and threw up some disgusting shot-attempt-lob thingy. Poor execution to say the least.
But, as luck would have it, Alex Len was in the right place at the right time to put back Howard’s air ball with 0.9 seconds remaining.
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Sometimes you do need a little luck. You just can’t rely on it.
I can’t tell you why I doubted coach at the beginning of the season. The hell do I know? He was right. There were major questions regarding this team, and those same questions still exist after 17 games together. The maturity and chemistry should come in time and the potential of what could be still feels good from a fan’s perspective.
For now I’ll focus on the two big games coming up on Tobacco Road. Within the next couple days, the Terps need to find some sort of shooting groove from anywhere on the floor and they have to get better at protecting the basketball.
From here on out, the Terps’ schedule only gets tougher. The stakes only get higher. And Maryland’s going to need a little luck to go their way.