COLLEGE PARK, Md.—Seconds after an exasperated Mark Turgeon spent his final timeout Thursday night, Maryland’s video board showed a glimpse of of the Terrapins’ storied basketball past.
Between highlights, a litany of famous names--from hall of fame coaches Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams to star players Juan Dixon, Walt Williams, Joe Smith and Len Elmore--declared on tape that “I have Maryland pride.”
Trailing by 25 points at the time, Turgeon clearly was pleading for his current edition to demonstrate a smidge of that quality. The immediate results (an 11-2 run) were encouraging, but pride alone couldn’t carry the struggling Terps in an 89-67 loss, their third straight.
“I don’t think we competed at a high enough level to win the game,” Turgeon said testily afterward. “It’s tough. I didn’t like the way we finished the first half. At times in the second half, we played really well, but we’ve got to learn to compete a little more.”
Few expected Maryland (6-6, 1-5) to repeat last season’s share of the Big Ten regular-season title, not after sophomore big man Jalen Smith was taken 10th in the NBA draft and four-year starting guard Anthony Cowan graduated. That left Maryland short on both size and experience.
“We have no low-post presence, especially against a zone,” Turgeon said. “It’s a very unusual set of circumstances.”
Lacking those essentials, teams must compensate with smarts and grit to survive. Those qualities were evident at times Thursday, but were sorely missing during Iowa’s 20-0 first-half surge that removed all doubt.
“We just were not tough enough. We were not mentally locked in enough to fight and counter some of the things they had,” said junior guard Aaron Wiggins, who led the Terps with 17 points. “ ... Right now, we just don’t look like we’re playing to the best of our ability. We’ve got to change our effort and energy.”
The Terps had little success containing Iowa’s All-America center, Luka Garza--but then, no one really has this season. Garza, a a 6-foot-11 D.C. native, scored 24 points (three below his nation-leading average) despite sitting out the final five minutes with a comfortable lead.
When the smaller Terps double-teamed Garza, he kicked the ball out for open 3-pointers for his teammates. When they let Donta Scott, Galen Smith or Jairus Hamilton try to guard Garza alone, he scored eight points on three possessions--without attempting a 3.
“Garza’s as good as advertised,” junior guard Eric Ayala said.
On the other end, Maryland hit two early 3-point attempts and raced to a 17-7 lead before the bigger, more experienced Hawkeyes switched to a zone. Then the Terps positioned all five players outside the arc and seemed to settle almost exclusively for long-range shots.
Of Maryland’s 60 field-goal attempts Thursday night, 35 were from distance. (They made 12). And they took only six free throws. Maryland’s signature win this season, a 70-63 upset of then-No. 6 Wisconsin on Dec. 28 in Madison, came when fewer than one-third (17 of 52) of the Terps’ shot attempts came from long range.
There are other frustrating signs of youth. On Maryland’s final possession of the first half, the shot clock was off. but Wiggins missed a 3-point attempt with eight seconds remaining, allowing Iowa’s Keegan Murray to drive the length of the court for a layup (and a 44-26 lead) at the halftime buzzer.
And when shots stopped falling, Maryland’s defense was affected by the disappointment--a fate that rarely befalls more mature teams.
Things won’t get easier for the Terps, who are in the midst of a challenging nine-game stretch that features seven games against ranked opponents.
The Terps aren’t giving up. After the game, several younger players returned to the Xfinity Center court to work on shots and post moves.
“We’re trying everything,” Turgeon said “ .... We’re not staying status quo. We’re trying to figure it out. We’re taking some steps that should help us down the road.”
If Turgeon does find answers, though, will they come in time to salvage the season that’s on the brink of becoming a lost cause?
Steve DeShazo: 374-5443