Maryland's bubble dangerously close to bursting

Maryland's bubble dangerously close to bursting
March 7, 2013, 1:15 am
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The game was as disappointing as the “snow storm.”

With their season on the line against a streaking North Carolina team in front of a packed house at the Comcast Center, the Maryland Terrapins laid an egg on senior night and ended up on the wrong end of a 79-68 decision as the Tar Heels won their sixth game in a row.

When the final horn sounded this much was clear: Only a serious run at the ACC tournament next week in Greensboro will allow the Terps entry into the NCAA tournament at this point.

The fact of the matter is that the Terps played this game much as they had every game and, for that matter, much of the season. They mixed in impressive runs and physical play with maddening mistakes and head-scratching mental lapses. That Maryland’s flaws and inconsistencies would prove to be its undoing this season just cannot be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.

The final stats showed that the Terps had only 14 turnovers on the night but they had three turnovers in their first four possessions in a game where a good start was crucial and their bad choices and decisions in the last three minutes of the first half turned a 27-24 Terp lead into a 34-27 deficit in the most critical stretch of the game.

Some of the Maryland flaws are epidemic in college hoops. Poor shooting, questionable shot selection, critical turnovers, etc. 

Some of them are specific to this club. While there is no question that poor guard play has been the major reason for Terrapin struggles- especially on the road- there are a number of contributing factors.

First, those guards have plenty of object lessons and game tape to learn from. Yet they commit the same errors game after game. Subtle things like using the wrong angle for an entry pass into the post or making the wrong read in transition haunt this team on a game by game basis and their lack of progression on this front had their coach Mark Turgeon apoplectic after this game. He mentioned the fact that they talk about those subtleties all the time, show hours of game tape underscoring all of those things yet the job doesn’t get done. The last possession of the first half had the coach particularly upset.

North Carolina had gone up by four points but Maryland had the ball with the shot clock off for the last possession of the half. Worst case scenario is that you hold the ball and take the last shot and miss it and you’re still only down four. Best case is that you make a bucket – or a three pointer- and you’ve cut the lead to two or one and go into the locker room down just one or two points on a high note.

As the clock ticked down Turgeon called for his players to hold the ball until the ten second mark and then run a set play.  Point guard Seth Allen passed the ball to Nick Faust on the Maryland wing just inside the 25 second mark and Faust inexplicably took off to the Maryland basket, going one on five against the Carolina defense. The ball was batted away on the dribble and led to a three on one Tar Heel fastbreak. 

Needless to say, North Carolina, currently playing with as much confidence and efficiency as anybody in the country, capitalized in a big way. Freshman Marcus Paige nailed a three pointer from the right wing with 17 seconds left to play and the Tar Heel lead was seven at the break. It could have been one or two, instead it’s seven. That’s a big difference for a team still trying to establish itself in March.

Make no mistake about it; this is not just about Faust and the rest of the Maryland guards. 

Center Alex Len, playing once again in front of a host of NBA scouts, continued to struggle against an opponent where he appeared to have a favorable matchup. He finished with eight points and seven rebounds on 4-8 shooting. One of those baskets was on an alley-oop and the other three were on putbacks after offensive rebounds. None of those were moves made with his back to the basket. When you’ve seen the best the big guy has to offer, a performance like this is beyond frustrating.

And it’s not just about Len, either. It is truly a collective thing.

I’m taking some literary license with this a little but, the look on Turgeon’s face after the game seemed to say, “I never thought that 20-10 would feel so completely disappointing”. 

While the Terps may have seen realistic hopes for March Madness slip away against North Carolina, they still have plenty to play for. The dysfunctional group that struggled to finish 17-15 is long gone. The new guys may have fostered some false hope with a 13-game run through November and December against inferior competition, but the quality of both the play and the players is dramatically better than it was just one year ago. 

That seemed like small consolation to either Turgeon or Terrapin Nation after this loss.