Point to Seth Allen’s blocked 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
Point to the extended scoring drought in the second half.
Point to whatever you please.
Maryland’s 65-62 loss to Florida State on Wednesday was as much a full-game issue as anything else.
“We just had a lot of guys not make good decisions tonight,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “We didn’t play well.”
And you know what? It was bound to happen eventually.
Granted, the parade of horribles (plus a few respectable teams) to visit Comcast Center during nonconference play wasn’t going to inflict such damage of the Terrapins (13-2), whose 13-game winning streak came to an end. Considering Virginia Tech’s aversion to defense, it was no surprise Maryland cruised in its ACC opener Saturday as well.
Yet for all of the talk of potential rankings (which ultimately and blissfully mean little in college basketball) and gaudy records, Maryland entered January a fairly unknown quantity.
What, really, had the Terps accomplished? And two games into an 18-game ACC schedule, what have they done?
Both are valid questions in the near-term, but neither is fixated on the reality facing Turgeon over the next two months. Even as Maryland offered up some promising moments (the second half against Northwestern) and received welcome news (Dez Wells’ eligibility) and tried to figure out how to best utilize a 10-man rotation, the script really isn’t much different from October.
Those were heady days in College Park, when no one knew what to expect out of the posse of four freshmen and Wells’ status sat in limbo. Yep, the Terps were going to be better than last year, when Turgeon somehow extracted 17 wins from an undermanned bunch.
But how good? And how soon?
Those with a realistic bent probably saw a gradually rising team, one that might have some missteps and then surge in February. Where it would lead, no one could be sure. But it was going to be interesting to find out.
And it still probably will be.
Maryland isn’t perfect, and it took a typically aggravating Florida State bunch to expose those imperfections. The Seminoles (10-5, 2-0 ACC) are long and athletic and certain to play defense because that’s what they always do for coach Leonard Hamilton. The offense? It comes and it goes.
It wasn’t there in the first half, but Maryland couldn’t take advantage, committing 11 of its 18 turnovers before the break.
“I think we were up 10 or 11 in the first half and it should have been 15 or 16,” Turgeon said. “We were missing wide open shots and just throwing the ball out of bounds. We had six turnovers at the first timeout and they weren’t making shots. I just felt there were a lot of opportunities in the first half.”
The Terps probably needed to make the most of them, too. For steady point guard Pe’Shon Howard was unsteady. The assertive Wells was out of control. The usually sharp-shooting Logan Aronhalt just couldn’t make an open shot. And on and on it went, right down much of the roster.
These are no indictments. The versions of Howard and Wells and Aronhalt seen over the first 14 games are probably more reflective of who they are than Wednesday, even while adjusting for overall level of competition. Bad nights happen, sometimes en masse.
For Allen, turnovers (five, in fact) were a problem. So was the end-game situation, for reasons eminently predictable for a player near the midpoint of his freshman season. His long 3-pointer with two seconds remaining was blocked, and the Terps’ chances of erasing an eight-point lead in the final minute fizzled simultaneously.
“I wanted to attack,” Allen said. “I didn’t feel like I had enough time but I probably did. I’m just going to learn from this mistake. I’m young. I’m a freshman. We have a lot more games to play.”
The players aren’t the only ones still figuring things out, still uncovering what can and cannot be done. All season, bodies were a blessing for Turgeon, who doled out playing time in generally equitable fashion to prepare a deep team for what was to come.
Wednesday, there were simply too many available choices, and cycling through them all yielded next to nothing in the second half (during which Maryland blew a 12-point lead and at one stage missed 11 straight shots.
“I have so many options,” Turgeon said. “I just kept trying different options. I just kept going ‘Let’s try this, let’s try this, oh no, let’s try this guy.’ You just kept [thinking] ‘Someone’s gotta make a shot.’ You just kept trying. But no one could get in a rhythm. Sometimes you just have to stick with your rotation and stick with your guys. Maybe that’s what I learned from it. We just kept trying things and it just kept getting worse.”
So, for one night, misery set in --- exactly two months to the day of the Terps’ season-opening loss. Yet just as beating the likes of South Carolina State and IUPUI proved little of substance, this loss hardly defines the trajectory of Maryland’s season.
That’s still to come, in games the Terps will discover more closely mirror what they endured Wednesday than in nonconference play. It’s a fine lesson; there can be little surprise at what is certain to come in the next two months.
“It’s a really good learning experience for us,” center Alex Len said. “We have 16 more games. We just have to learn from this game and keep getting better.”
That was the vital issue in October, same as it is today. A reminder the Terps didn’t magically arrive overnight might prove a fine development, regardless of a long list of troubles Florida State persistently revealed over a full night in College Park.--- Patrick Stevens