COLLEGE PARK, Md. — It was a fitting night for the Comcast Center floor to be dedicated as Gary Williams Court Wednesday.
Fitting because the atmosphere on campus at the University of Maryland was reminiscent to many nights during the 22 years Williams patrolled the sidelines for the Terrapins before retiring. The stands at the school’s nearly ten year old arena were absolutely rocking with Maryland students and no seats to be had. Students began chanting before the game and remained a factor almost until the game was over.
Unfortunately for the team inherited by Mark Turgeon, the performance on the newly dedicated floor was also fitting for a team that hasn’t really been good enough since Williams left.
The Terps hung in against the eighth ranked Duke University Blue Devils for much of the game, even leading 47-46 midway through the second half. But the Devils (17-3, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) would double up the Terps (12-7, 2-3 ACC) the rest of the way en route to a 74-61 victory. Sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin would again lead the Terps in scoring (16 points), but the Terps would again fail to offer significant help on the offensive end (guard Pe’Shon Howard was next with just ten points). Struggles from beyond the arc (4-13) and the free throw line (11-21) continued to doom a team that lacks enough ability elsewhere to overcome such struggles.
A third straight overall loss for the Terps, it was eerily similar to the defeats suffered at both Florida State University at Temple University last week. They played well enough for a good stretch of the game but their problems ultimately caught up to them against an opponent of either similar or superior ability. They’re pretty good…just not quite good enough.
Mired in a funk after back to back conference wins, Turgeon attempted to put a positive spin on the loss postgame.
“I thought our team battled well and think we had a game plan and we stuck to it and it kept us around” Turgeon said. “We’re getting better. If you could have been in Puerto Rico (for the 5-Hour Energy Puerto Rico Tip-Off), you would have never thought that we could play like we’re playing right now. So, we’re getting there.”
It sounds a lot like coach speak, but it’s actually quite honest. Of course, that’s really the biggest problem facing this Maryland team as constructed.
The difficulty with judging Turgeon’s first season in College Park is that struggles were to be expected. Even after getting Howard back from a foot injury that cost him the first nine games of the season and adding freshman C Alex Len after serving a ten game suspension for eligibility issues, this Maryland team remains uncomfortably thin. Their big bodies aren’t big enough to neutralize talented frontcourts (23 points and 12 rebounds for Mason Plumlee Wednesday night a glaring example) and none of their players in the backcourt have a dangerous enough inside-outside game to truly open things up for anyone else.
They’re trying to win without really having the horses to win. Perhaps that’s where Turgeon deserves the most credit.
The new coach has done everything he can to get players to stick to a game plan, improve defensively and get after the basketball. In losses to Alabama and Iona in San Juan, Maryland did very little of what they needed to do in order to win and were on the wrong end of blowouts.
Over the course of the last nine days, the Terrapins have shown in stretches that they can do all of the little things they need to do to win. But in the stretches where those good habits have disappeared, better teams have been able to walk away with victories in three games.
Turgeon attempted to sum it up after the loss.
“There are still four-minute stretches where we aren’t making a field goal, and that is not going to beat good teams. That happens, when we’re good offensively, we’re good. But we have stretches where we don’t make free throws too. It wears you out and you can’t keep up. In the end, our defense wasn’t quite good enough and rebounding wasn’t quite good enough, neither was our free throw shooting. But our effort was tremendous and I’m really proud of the guys.”
This is the issue. Maryland isn’t a “bad” team. They’re just a team that isn’t quite good enough to be able to win games against good teams. Five such games (two against North Carolina, two against Virginia and the trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium) remain on the schedule, and the other six conference games aren’t cupcakes.
They ARE better. It’s just that there’s not enough time left in this season for that progress to truly equal results. Maryland fans hope to have something to hang their hat on about this team this season, but it’s not likely to come.
Turgeon was going to need time to fully show progress and he still will. A stunning upset of Duke might have been enough to garner favor for until the 2012-2013 season tipped off. Similarly a stunning upset of UNC would do the same.
Unfortunately for Maryland fans, those achievements aren’t likely to be realized. It doesn’t mean Turgeon hasn’t done a nice job in his first season.
They’re better. They’re just not quite good enough.