Mark Turgeon could only watch as the shots kept clanking off the rim. His Maryland men’s basketball team had gone cold late in the first half against No. 4 Ohio State, and the now-characteristic shooting woes had continued after the break. When Turgeon called his second timeout in less than a minute out of frustration, the Terps had made one basket in 15 tries across a span of more than 13 minutes.
Maryland actually started strong against the Buckeyes on Monday, Feb. 8, taking leads of 13-5 and 23-17 with aggressive play at both ends of the floor. But it didn’t last, and Ohio State pulled ahead 35-30 by halftime and took a double-digit lead early in the second half. By the 13:07 mark, it was 46-32. Maryland made it closer, but never had a chance. The Terps fell 73-65 and dropped to 10-10 overall and 4-9 in Big Ten play.
The missed shots simply piled up and buried Maryland once again. The Terps started 10-of-21, but the 1-of-15 dry spell brought them to 11-of-36 for the game, an abysmal 30.6 percent. They made 11 of their last 19, which brought them to a respectable 22-of-55 (40 percent), but the damage had been done. And the 3-point shooting never came around — Maryland finished a lowly 5-of-19 (26.3 percent) from distance.
This has become a feature rather than a bug for the Terps. In 13 conference games, Maryland is shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from distance. Across the last six contests, those numbers are down to 39.9 and 28.6 percent, respectively.
Perhaps most frustrating is the Terps’ tendency to completely disappear for long stretches. Their 1-of-15 lull against Ohio State wasn’t an anomaly. Maryland missed its last 10 shots in a 55-50 loss to Penn State and shot a meager 7-of-28 in the first half of a 61-55 loss to Wisconsin. The Terps had to survive a 2-of-11 spell in their 61-60 win against Purdue and a 1-of-11 drought in their 63-49 victory at Minnesota. And that’s all in the last five games.
“We go through those lulls. That’s just who we are,” Turgeon said. “We have to keep guarding during that stretch, and we didn’t guard in that stretch the way we needed to guard.”
Falling to Ohio State, which has won eight of nine games to ascend to No. 4 in the country, isn’t that harmful in a vacuum. But as Maryland falls to 10-10 overall, frustration around the program is simmering with the season at a crossroads.
An unfulfilling offseason has left the Terps with a thin, flawed rotation.
Less than a year ago, Maryland was alone atop the Big Ten and projected as an NCAA Tournament No. 2 seed. The Terps ultimately won a share of the conference regular-season title and appeared on track for a No. 3 or 4 seed when, suddenly, everything shut down and the postseason was canceled and hopes of a deep run were swept away.
There was no “run it back” — Anthony Cowan Jr. was out of eligibility, and Jalen Smith was headed to the NBA. Then came three offseason transfers, in addition to the midseason departure of twin centers Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, and Maryland was suddenly severely undermanned, especially in the frontcourt. Additions of Jairus Hamilton and Galin Smith patched some holes, but the Terps whiffed on a bevy of more highly-regarded transfer targets. As a result, Maryland entered the season with question marks surrounding both its star power (only one player who had averaged double-digit points in college) and depth (just six players with more than 120 minutes of experience).
The team hasn’t been a disaster, but its imperfections are obvious. Veteran guards Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell have all been inconsistent; rare is the game where even two of the three take over offensively. Donta Scott is averaging a strong 12.4 points and 6.4 rebounds, but still looks lost at times. Hamilton and Smith have been competent but rarely made significant impacts. Same for Hakim Hart. And those are the seven guys Turgeon even trusts — freshman guards Aquan Smart and Marcus Dockery, 7-foot-2 center Chol Marial and midseason enrollee James Graham III have only made sporadic appearances in league play.
As one leak gets plugged, another always seems to spring up. Maryland spent the early part of its conference schedule getting roasted by the Big Ten’s slew of dominant big men, but that’s been less of a predominant theme of late, even as the Terps have zagged to frequent four-guard lineups. Still, every night presents a new challenge, and every opponent is capable of exposing Maryland in other areas.
“Our conference is full of really good bigs, and that’s been our primary focus in terms of our defensive strategies and schemes going into a lot of our games,” Wiggins said. “You have some of the greatest bigs in the country all in our conference, so Jairus, Galin, Donta, even Darryl sometimes, all have to fight with those bigs. And it’s hard. Every team is really talented, and if they don’t have a good big, they’ve got really good guards.”
Maryland’s defense has become a strength — opponents are shooting 38.2 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from deep over the last five games — but the offense, as mentioned above, is barely matching those totals. The result has been grinding nail-biters, and there’s something especially frustrating about losing those kinds of games.
The postseason still isn’t unthinkable, but there’s work to do.
Even at 9-10 in Division I games and 4-9 in the Big Ten, Maryland remains on the fringes of the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Terps have played a whopping 14 Quadrant 1 games, per current NET rankings, and even going 4-10 in those contests gives Maryland several high-quality wins — more than, say, Iowa, which is just 3-5 in Quad 1. Maryland also has no losses outside the first quadrant as rankings currently stand.
Of course, the Terps need wins down the stretch for any of this to matter. They have six games left on the schedule, with a potential makeup game against last-place Nebraska still to be added. Here’s what that slate looks like (for reference, Maryland is 4-9 in the conference, 44th on KenPom and 43rd in the NET):
• Sunday, Feb. 14 vs. Minnesota (B1G 5-7, KP 40, NET 51)
• Wednesday, Feb. 17 at Nebraska (0-7, KP 128, NET 166)
• Sunday, Feb. 21 at No. 25 Rutgers (7-6, KP 24, NET 26)
• Sunday, Feb. 28 vs. Michigan State (3-7, KP 62, NET 91)
• Wednesday, March 3 at Northwestern (3-9, KP 72, NET 85)
• Sunday, March 7 vs. Penn State (4-7, KP 30, NET 29)
KenPom projects Maryland’s most likely record in those six games as 3-3, but favors the Terps in five of the six, the lone exception being the visit to Rutgers. They’d also be favored in a potential second game with Nebraska.
The magic number feels like a conference record of 9-11, assuming Maryland plays Nebraska twice. That’d mean a 5-2 finish, which would bring the Terps’ overall record to 14-12 in Division I games. Even then, it might take at least one win in the Big Ten tournament. But after starting the conference slate with 10 games against ranked foes (and the other three on the road), the finally-softening schedule can offer some fans a glimmer of hope.
“This team has a lot of fight left in it,” Turgeon said. “We think we’ve still got a chance to make a run here.”
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