Welcome back to Morning Shootaround, a regular feature this season the day after Maryland basketball games. While we can’t bring you into the Terps’ locker room after games – reporters haven’t been allowed in there since the last couple of years under Gary Williams – we will recap what was said in the press conference afterward by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his players. We will give some of our own insight into what transpired on the court during the previous day’s game and what the Terps will be working on at practice looking ahead to their next game.
Virginia 80, Maryland 69 @ Comcast Center, Sunday
For the first time this season, maybe for the first time since Mark Turgeon took over in College Park, there was a feeling of uneasiness that permeated Comcast Center. It might have been a sense of dispair, maybe even discontent with the lack of progress this team had made. Even last season, when things were going bad, there was always hope – a promising recruiting class on the way to return a program to the upper echelon of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Terps are certainly not there yet, and from the way this season has begun to unfold, or unravel, it’s going to take longer get there. Now 17-7 and 5-6 in a less-than-overwhelming ACC, Maryland has already won as many games as it did in Turgeon’s first season. But the preseason predictions of the Terps making a huge jump in the league standings -- including my own -- are fading quickly. They may be gone.
Asked how much pressure Sunday’s loss put on Maryland headed into Saturday’s game against Duke, sophomore guard Nick Faust said, “It puts a lot of pressure on you. We have to come out and make plays. We’ve got to get a winning streak going for the games coming up.”
Every time the Terps seem to get a little momentum going the past month, they seem to stumble.
It happened after a 13-1 start. With a chance to go 2-0 in the ACC (not to mention a school-record 14 straight victories), Maryland blew a double-digit lead at home to Florida State. After beating then No. 11 North Carolina State at home, the Terps had their worst half of the season in what became a 10-point loss at North Carolina.
Sunday’s loss wasn’t a mere stumble. With an opportunity for its first three-game winning streak since early January and the possibility of closing ground on other borderline NCAA teams like Virginia, Maryland basically collapsed. Turgeon praised Virginia, but this was as close to tears as we’ve seen him since he took over at Maryland.
“We weren’t very good. It’s disappointing. We’re all disappointed,” Turgeon said, obviously distressed.
At the end of his news conference, Turgeon was asked about what looked like a lack of fire from his players given what was at stake.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but we haven’t been a half-step slow all year,” Turgeon said. “We’ve gotten beat. And Virginia’s not the fastest team in the world, but they were beating us to loose balls.”
That’s when Turgeon made reference to what happened after Thursday’s win at Virginia Tech. The game ended past 11 and because a tractor trailor overturned on Interstate 81, the team bus took 2 ½ hours to get to the airport in Roanoke in what is typically a 45-minute ride. Because of the nasty weather, the team didn’t arrive back on campus until a few minutes before 4 a.m.
Turgeon said that he could see in his players’ eyes in the dressing room Sunday that many were tired, not as there mentally as they needed to be.
“It catches up to you,” Turgeon said. “I want to give Virgnia most of the credit, but we weren’t there today.”
KILLING THE BUZZ
Had the Terps won Sunday, there would have been a lot of excitement going into Saturday’s home game against the Blue Devils. With the losses the past few days by Michigan, Florida and Indiana, Duke will likely come into Maryland ranked No. 1. But given the fact that the Terps gave what was their least inspired performance of the season, it will be difficult to imagine an upset is looming.
While it’s still too early to rule out Maryland making a late-season run that will put them back in the conversation for the NCAA tournament, Sunday’s loss did major damage. It essentially means the Terps have to beat Duke or North Carolina at home and not lose the rest of their regular season games – home or away – and then make a run to at least the semifinals or final of the ACC tournament.
Realistically, I think the Terps are going to have to put everything into what happens in Greensboro. It has been done before – heck, Maryland did it in 2004 as a bubble team – but I just don’t see it happening. The team’s two best players, Alex Len and Dez Wells, are just too inconsistent and and don’t take over games as we’ve seen from other ACC players, including Joe Harris and Justin Anderson on Sunday.
ON FURTHER REVIEW
I thought Anderson was making a mistake going to Virginia after getting out of commitment to Maryland when Gary Williams retired and assistant coach Rob Ehsan, who had recruited Anderson out of Montrose Christian, was not retained by Turgeon. I also thought the Terps would not need another 6-5 player who seemed more like a one-dimensional dunker than an all-around player.
I guess I was wrong on both counts. Anderson was all smiles Sunday after scoring a season-high 17 points and pulling down nine rebounds, and taking over the game for a stretch after Pe’Shon Howard put the clamps on Harris for awhile. Given what he has done since moving into the starting lineup a couple of weeks ago, I think Anderson could be a nice piece that the Terps don’t have right now.
Anderson said that he didn’t put too much pressure on himself going into his first meeting with the Terps.
“I was just fired up to play with my team in general. It’s just another game. We came into a tough place and got a big win,” said Anderson, who was booed when he was introduced, taunted by the Maryland students -- 'We don’t want a traitor' -- and booed every time he touched the ball early on.
Anderson said he even “forgot this week we were playing Maryland” and credited Virginia coach Tony Bennett “for bringing some things out of me that I didn’t even know I had.”
One more thing: Anderson made it clear that he would have been a Terp had Williams not retired.
“If Coach Williams was still here, then they had my word and I signed a letter of intent and everything, and that’s where I wanted to be,” Anderson said. “It didn’t work out that way and God put me here at the University of Virginia.”
NO (POWER) FORWARD PROGRESS
Even when things were rolling back in December, Turgeon admitted that a lack of consistent productivity at the power forward position was a potential problem for the Terps. Turgeon starting Padgett for the past two games had something to do with what the blue-collar senior was doing, but it also had to do with what freshmen Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell were not.
Padgett got off to a quick start Sunday, but then he quickly disappeared, and after averaging 27 minutes the past three games, was back to single-digits again. Mitchell came in and made a couple of quick turnovers, and never seemed to get into the flow. Only Cleare played decently, but his strong finishes inside were offset by the fact that he didn’t get a rebound in 11 minutes.
A lot of Len’s issues with not becoming the dominant player many expected have to do with his own deficiencies – a lack of toughness being at the heart of the problem – but the 7-1 sophomore doesn’t have a lot of help from Maryland’s other big men. Logan Aronhalt said that Virginia’s double-teams on Len came quickly, and why not, given the fact that opponents are not concerned with the other bigs.
As stated above, a lot of the buzz for Saturday’s game against Duke was muted, if not killed entirely, by what transpired Sunday. Considering the fact that the Terps have not beaten the Blue Devils since Greivis Vasquez led them to victory in 2010, and Maryland played decently for much of last month’s game in Durham, N.C., yet still lost by 20, I have a feeling that this could be the proverbial nail in Maryland’s NCAA coffin.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times