If it isn’t one thing with this Maryland Terrapins basketball team, it is another.
The Terrapins lost a must-win game at home against the Virginia Cavaliers on Sunday 80-69, and in doing so cast a major cloud of uncertainty on their NCAA Tournament hopes. The script has been the same all year; win or lose, the Terrapins will always showcase one or two of their damning flaws. Be it turnovers, outside shooting, or a failure to stop outside shooting, Maryland always does something to give you pause.
Against Virginia, it was surprisingly not the turnovers that were the main issue that caused Maryland to lose. Instead, it was their propensity to let one player get hot and absolutely destroy them for a half. With Florida State, it was Okaro White; against North Carolina it was Reggie Bullock; Duke let loose Rasheed Sulaimon. Finally against Virginia, it was Joe Harris and his 22 points on 7-of-8 shooting (3-of-4 from deep.)
Here is the part of the story where I get on Mark Turgeon. You’re facing a player in Joe Harris who is shooting a Steve Kerr-like 47% from long range on the year, and who is very clearly the Cavaliers go-to scorer. Let him get hot, and he is going to annihilate your team from deep. Now again, you know from previous experience that playing man-to-man against teams that are good from three point range ends with absolutely dreadful results (Duke, North Carolina). You also know going into the game that your players have a very hard time fighting through screens to get to those open shooters.
So what does Turgeon do? He plays man-to-man, and the Cavaliers shoot 58% from deep and hit 11 three pointers. I understand the complexities in preparing a defensive game plan, and Turgeon’s propensity to stick with the script no matter what is happening during the game. What I don’t understand is how he consistently fails to adjust midgame in order to implement something of a different strategy to stop these issues against good three point shooting teams.
As my colleague put it, “You want him to run a gimmicky 3-2?” Well, kind of. Playing mano e mano has gotten the Terrapins throttled during similar games. You would think that, going into this game knowing that Virginny has some very good shooters, they would have had something drawn up to prevent this sort of implosion. Turgeon didn’t have that, and his inability to adjust in-game (save for using the press to stop the bleeding late in the second half) caused him to get out-coached by Tony Bennett.
That is the honest truth. I’m not blaming Turgeon for everything, but to absolve him of at least a large portion of the guilt is unfair to the players. Turgeon has done a lot of things correctly, but one thing he has failed to do is readjust midgame so the Terrapins don’t get behind by 10, 11, even 15 points. When the game plan isn’t being executed well, it seems as if nothing at all goes well for the majority of the game. To allow a team to shoot as well as Virginia did means there was a fundamental issue with the strategy going into this game.
This is as far as I am going to get onto Mark Turgeon, because the players were also at fault here. Despite a big size advantage, the Terrapins were outrebounded for the first time all season long. The Terrapins had 10 offensive rebounds (27 overall) to Virginia’s 31, and being outrebounded is typically an effort issue. The players showed little to no sense of urgency throughout the game, even when the lead was getting larger by the second. Virginia didn’t have Dennis Rodman on their team, and Maryland should have had the boards advantage during this game.
Another thing that will go overlooked while trying to search for answers is the free throw shooting. Virginia made 17 free throws of their 23 attempts, whereas Maryland shot a meager 55% on 10-of-18 attempts. The only player who shot really badly from the line was Dez Wells, who hit 1-of-4. But Logan Aronhalt had a miss, Len had a miss, Cleare had a miss, and Padgett missed his only attempt. I’m not saying the Terrapins need to shoot 100% from the stripe, but it makes the game a helluva lot easier when those misses turn into makes. Even hitting three more turns this game into a more competitive one.
One of the more frustrating facets of this game was the Terrapins inability to fight through screens and poor timing on entry passes. Every guard on the floor struggled to get around a simple screen and get to their perimeter shooters. The only person who was acceptably doing it was Pe’Shon Howard. Everyone else just didn’t look like they were displaying the proper aggressiveness and will to get a hand in these guys faces.
And the entry passes were just brutal, as is tradition. The Virginia big men weren’t even playing that incredible of defense against Len and Mitchell. Instead, the Terps guards just never got them the ball at the right times. Numerous times, Len had footing in the paint, but he only got a (sloppy) entry pass after about five seconds of standing around. He has to get those passes earlier, and had he gotten them earlier Virginia wouldn’t have been able to hone in on him as quickly.
The only players on this team who can successfully complete a properly timed entry pass are Aronhalt and Layman, which really makes no sense at all. There are no point guards on the roster, but these are fundamental things that should never be an issue. Until the Terrapins can time those passes correctly, they will never be able to take real advantage of their size and power down low.
Of course, no one needs to bring up what this loss means for the Maryland Terrapins. This was as close to a must-win as this season is going to get, and they lost. Now there really aren’t too many other opportunities for a key victory. They get Duke at home, North Carolina at home, and Virginia on the road. None of those games look particularly winnable at the moment, but then anything can happen.
Maryland is going to need at least four wins in their final seven games (including a key victory and an ACC Tournament win) in order to even be in the conversation. The road that they will travel is riddled with uncertainty, and that is never a good thing for a team with this many issues.