COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The scowl on the face of Gary Williams said it all as the Maryland coach walked off the Comcast Center floor moments after the final buzzer.
In his mind, this was one that got away from the Terps.
The Terps and Boston College went toe-to-toe for 38 minutes in an ACC opener that had the intensity of a late-February battle. Leading 75-72 with 2:44 to play, Maryland would not score again, missing free throws and taking ill-advised shots in a 79-75 loss to the Eagles.
It was just the latest example of a close game in which the Terps couldn’t do enough to secure a victory against a quality opponent, dropping them to 7-4 and 0-1 in ACC play. The loss spoiled another sensational performance by sophomore Jordan Williams who scored 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, earning his ninth double-double of the season.
“We missed a couple free throws, took a couple bad shots, and were not patient on offense,” Jordan Williams said. “We went away from what we wanted to do on offense when they took a three-point lead, and we didn’t execute well.”
In the final 2:12 of the game, the Terps missed all three of their free-throw attempts, continuing a season-long issue at the charity stripe. The two missed by Cliff Tucker (an 80-percent shooter from the line) jump-started the Boston College comeback.
Freshman Terrell Stoglin, despite playing brilliantly at times and scoring 14 points, came unglued in his decision making. After missing the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1:03 left and the game tied 75-75, the point guard followed that up two possessions later by taking — and missing — a quick 3-pointer with 20 seconds left and the Terps trailing 78-75.
It was a move reminiscent of another point guard who never shied away from taking a big shot, even if it wasn’t the ideal look.
“Terrell tries to win just like when Greivis [Vasquez] was a freshman,” Gary Williams said. “Things happen, but he’s trying to win the game. You have to give him credit for that. As he plays, he’ll understand those situations a little better, but I like guys on my team that want to win, and Terrell’s one of those people.”
Stoglin’s performance was a microcosm of what has plagued Maryland all season in close games against tougher competition. As the freshman did Sunday night, the Terps have played brilliantly at times this season but have often shot themselves in the foot at critical moments.
For a team lacking a dynamic scorer like Vasquez, the margin for error is too small to give away points at the free-throw line and make mistakes in the execution of the half-court offense. On Sunday, Boston College’s execution down the stretch was precise while the Terps wilted.
The Eagles hit an impressive 13-of-29 3-point shots, often using four guards to give the Terps match-up problems on the perimeter. Biko Paris made six from beyond the arc and scored 22 points to lead Boston College to a win in its first ACC game under new coach Steve Donahue.
“This is the ACC and everyone can play,” said forward Dino Gregory, who matched a career high with 14 points and had three blocks. “We have to make adjustments on our defense. There is really no excuse for the mismatches.”
In contrast, the Terps went 3-for-17 from the 3-point line and made only 8 of 14 free throws, major flaws in a game that featured 11 ties and 16 lead changes.
Maryland will now have 10 days to stew over this one, as the players take final exams before hosting NJIT on Dec. 22. The Terps won’t resume their conference schedule, however, until Jan. 9 when they have the daunting task of traveling to Durham to take on No. 1 Duke.
After falling in non-conference games against Pitt, Illinois, and Temple, the Terps can add Boston College to a list of winnable games in which they’ve come up short. Maryland’s four losses have been by a combined 20 points, a small number but unforgiving nonetheless.
Of course, plenty of time remains between now and March, but failing to earn precious victories against quality opponents in November and December often catches up with a team looking to play in the NCAA tournament. Maryland only has one remaining non-conference game of any substance, a challenging trip to Philadephia to face Villanova on Jan. 15.
Luckily for the Terps, the ACC appears wide open once you look past the top-ranked Blue Devils. A strong conference record will be needed to boost an unimpressive slate of non-conference wins to this point.
If the Terps find themselves fighting for their tournament lives in early March, they’ll look back at their mid-December conference opener as another game that was there for the taking.
“You have to be able to handle this [loss], and we’ve got time now obviously before we play another conference game,” the Maryland coach said. “Every game we play between now and then will be very important to us to win.
“How we go after practice each day is going to be really big. That’s going to be very important for us to get better, because we don’t have to get a lot better. We have to get better, but we don’t have to get a lot better.”
The margin between victory and defeat has been minuscule for the Terps, but you’re only as good as your record says.
And with four losses already in the middle of December, it’s clear Maryland has plenty of work to do.
NOTES: After going undefeated in conference home games last season, the Terps dropped their ACC opener and are now 6-7 all-time against Boston College. Maryland had also won 27 straight games when leading at halftime. … The Terps entered the game second in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense (.372) and 3-point percentage defense (.288) but allowed the Eagles to shoot 48.3 percent from the field and 44.8 percent from beyond the arc. … Maryland had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half but just one after halftime. … The Terps’ nine turnovers matched a season low, which came against Pittsburgh on Nov. 18.