Maryland men’s basketball dug itself a hole too deep to climb out of Dec. 9 at Clemson, falling behind by 25 points in the first half en route to a 67-51 defeat, its first of the 2020-21 season.

The Terps entered this game 4-0 and had a chance to earn a top-25 ranking with a road victory. But Maryland unraveled quickly, falling behind by as many as 25 points in the first half. The Terps showed some more positive signs in the second half, but it was far too little, far too late.

In a disastrous first half, Maryland shot an appalling 6-of-23 from the floor, 1-of-8 from 3-point range and 2-of-7 from the foul line. The Terps’ 15 points in the period was their fewest in the first half since 2013, according to Patrick Stevens. A more efficient second half — 14-of-27, 5-of-10, 3-of-4 — only brought Maryland to 40 percent field-goal shooting for the game, as the Terps posted early-season lows in all shooting categories.

Donta Scott was the lone Terrapin in double figures, making 4 of 7 field goals (3 of 4 triples) and finishing with 11 points. Clemson rode a balanced scoring attack led by senior forward Aamir Simms, who posted 16 points and seven rebounds. Tigers guards Al-Amir Dawes and John Newman III scored 12 points each, while Nick Honor chipped in 10.

Here’s what stood out from the loss at Littlejohn Coliseum.

1. The Terps fell too far behind in a hurry.

Through a little more than eight minutes of play, Maryland was 2-of-11 from the floor with five turnovers. Then it got worse.

The Terps trailed just 13-4 at that point in the evening, and a Jairus Hamilton layup out of the media timeout made it 13-6. But Clemson’s offense eventually found a rhythm and Maryland’s never did. The Tigers went on a 12-1 run to make it 25-7. Then it was 33-11. Then 38-13. Maryland has made slow starts a chronic habit the last few years, but this hole quickly became too deep to dig out of.

The second half looked like a different basketball game. Maryland was competent on offense and applied consistent pressure on defense. The Terps went on a 17-4 run between the 16:15 and 7:40 marks, trimming Clemson’s lead from 25 to 12. But they’d never get closer than that. The damage had long been done.

2. Maryland’s balanced offense became a balanced struggle.

All you really need to know: Maryland’s leading scorer in the first half was Scott with three points, and no Terps made multiple field goals in the period. The stink was well distributed across the roster.

Senior Darryl Morsell, who struggled mightily against Saint Peter’s Dec. 4, was off his game once again, shooting just 2-of-10 to finish with four points and six rebounds. Junior Aaron Wiggins was also 2-of-10 and didn’t make his first shot until 6:03 remained in the game; he tallied six points and four turnovers. Eric Ayala went 3-of-7 but only made layups. Jairus Hamilton was 0-for-4 from long range. Hakim Hart started 1-of-4 before making three baskets in the final 3:32. The bright spots, if any, are Scott and Galin Smith, who went 3-of-3 from the field and 2-of-2 from the line for eight points in 19 minutes.

Last year’s Maryland team had two aces, Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith, who could often help subdue these poor stretches. Bruno Fernando was that ace in 2018-19. The lack of a proven star was the biggest knock on this 2020-21 version of the Terps. It didn’t seem like a problem when Maryland was playing from ahead early in the season, but there was no clear emergency plan when one was needed against Clemson.

3. The schedule is just starting to ramp up.

Maryland started its season with four mid-major opponents at home, but as it stands right now, the Terps have just one nonconference game remaining, a scheduled Dec. 22 tilt with La Salle. A 20-game Big Ten slate awaits, and that looks much more daunting now than it did at the start of the week.

This league appears to be the strongest in the country, and its 6-1 showing in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Dec. 8 simply hammers home that point. The frontrunners are No. 3-ranked Iowa, No. 4 Michigan State, No. 6 Illinois and No. 13 Wisconsin. But Rutgers and Ohio State are ranked 21st and 22nd, respectively. Michigan and Indiana are two of the first four teams outside of the top 25. Even entering this week, Maryland — who had risen from 51st to 30th in KenPom through four games and received AP votes — still slotted behind all eight of those teams. And performances like this won’t fly against even the league’s bottom-feeders.

The gauntlet starts with a home game Dec. 14 against ranked Rutgers. Conference play resumes Christmas Day with a visit to Purdue, and the Terps also play at Wisconsin Dec. 28 before hosting Michigan Dec. 31.

Maryland’s ship hasn’t yet crashed, but it certainly veered sharply off course Dec. 9. Now it’s on the staff and players to straighten it out.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Thomas Kendziora

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