Mark Turgeon morosely stepped to the podium wearing the look of a man who could offer few explanations for what he saw the previous two hours.
The Maryland coach watched Virginia bury his team 80-69 Sunday at Comcast Center, shortcomings everywhere conspiring to produce a forgettable performance.
This isn’t November, when the Terrapins’ young team got to know each other.
This isn’t December, when games don’t come close to filling the calendar.
This isn’t January, when Maryland immediately faced the roughest part of its conference schedule.
No, this is February, when answers are supposed to arrive, when separation truly occurs and when some measure of consistency is bound to surface if ever it will.
In this crucible, the Terps (17-7, 5-6 ACC) were outplayed at both ends, not so much sleepwalking as getting methodically outworked by a team in similar straits.
“I think it really opened some guys eyes because it’s getting so late in the season,” guard Logan Aronhalt said. “There’s no more next game, you know? It’s going to be right now.”
Aronhalt, the veritable old man on the roster, knows all too well. His teammates might soon learn as well after a game defined as much by Virginia’s slick shooting as Maryland’s lethargic play.
For the most part, Maryland hasn’t dealt with chronic sluggishness. It’s encountered disjointed offense, erratic play all over the roster, sometimes unwatchable shooting.
This was different.
“We seemed a half-step slow from the beginning,” Turgeon said.
The Cavaliers (17-6, 7-3) were only too happy to take advantage, rolling up their most points in a conference game since 2010. That came from a bunch only too happy to grind out 61-52 and 58-55 victories along the way.
For Maryland, defense and rebounding are supposed to be Turgeon’s pillars, and in fact both kept the Terps respectable when their offense vanished at times last month.
Undersized Virginia was the first team to outrebound Maryland all season. And the Terps had no answer for Justin Anderson in the first half, Paul Jesperson after the break and Joe Harris at any time.
“We gave up 80 at home,” Turgeon said. “That’s the game.”
Maryland’s problem wasn’t the scorching it faced Sunday. Rather, it is how little it can afford such outings so deep into the season.
The Terps are saddled with a lousy nonconference schedule that offered them few chances to truly distinguish themselves. They have one victory of any real merit (N.C. State). This is 24 games into a season of 33 or so games, give or take one and maybe two.
They are, essentially, in a race to stockpile as many victories as they can, in effect hoping to produce a profile of overwhelming quantity. Missteps in the final weeks of the season can be few and far between.
Maryland still has a trek to Charlottesville to contend with. Then there’s Saturday’s looming visit from Duke, a tangible chance to redefine the season script for a team with almost no measure of predictability from week to week and game to game.
Yes, the visit from Duke is an opportunity. So, too, was Sunday’s eventual loss.
“It’s going to be a good week, I think,” Aronhalt said. “I know coach is already talking about it. We don’t have a game, so we’re going to be getting after it. We have Duke coming in Saturday, so guys have to be ready to go. If they’re not, I don’t know what’s wrong.”
There is no one thing wrong with Maryland, but rather a multitude of nagging shortcomings that surface with varying frequency. Whether it’s merely inexperience, a roster missing a crucial piece or something far greater or smaller remains difficult to determine.
This is February, and answers remain hard to come by in College Park. There is no separation for the Terps, besides of a growing gulf between Maryland and the teams closer to the top third of the league.
And there surely is no consistency, and the possibility it never develops must be weighed as the Terps opened the final quarter of its regular season schedule with a collective “meh” and a double-digit loss.
“It was their day,” Turgeon said. “It definitely wasn’t ours.”
That much was evident. So, too, is the possibility there might not be enough good days remaining in the next five weeks for it to matter for Maryland.--- Patrick Stevens