CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — As a tie game at halftime turned into a blowout loss to the University of Virginia Saturday, University of Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon decided he couldn’t sit back and watch his scholarship players go through the motions anymore.
With roughly three minutes to play in the game, Turgeon inserted five walk-on players into the Terrapins’ lineup and stuck with them for the rest of the game. It only made a blowout loss more lopsided, but the head coach was in need of making a statement.
“I just had enough” Turgeon said. “Selfishness, not boxing out, not defending. I wanted to do it earlier. You can go down our whole list-if you can tell me one guy that played well today, I’ll argue that you’re wrong. We were 0-14 or however many guys we played today.”
The number actually was 14 players, and none had anything to offer in the second half of the Terrapins’ 71-44 loss to the Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena. The Terps (15-11, 5-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) had managed to erase an early deficit and tie things up at intermission thanks to 14 points from G Terrell Stoglin. Stoglin wouldn’t score again after the break, and the Cavs (20-6, 7-5 ACC) outscored Maryland 40-13 the rest of the way.
It was as ugly (if not uglier) than I’m sure it appeared on television. Maryland shot a putrid 5-24 (20.8%) from the field and turned the ball over 12 times after returning from the locker room. Those 12 points resulted in 20 points for the Wahoos, while the Terps forced just one UVa turnover after the half (which actually did result in two points).
There’s no silver lining to Maryland’s second half effort. It was abysmal. It made spectators wonder why the team even bothered to return to the floor after the break. It was so frustrating that the coach compared it to Maryland’s previous season low point.
“This reminded me of Puerto Rico today. I thought we looked like we were disinterested as far as trying to be tough on defense and rebounding. Our execution was poor.”
Turgeon was referring to the team’s early season trip to San Juan for the 5-Hour Energy Puerto Rico Tip-Off, where they lost two of three games-including a blowout defeat at the hands of Iona. After the stretch, Turgeon referred to his team as “the biggest challenge I’ve ever had in coaching; it’s not even close.”
Similarly, Maryland played the three games in Puerto Rico without sophomore PG Pe’Shon Howard, who missed his third straight game Saturday (and will be out for the rest of the season) with a torn ACL. The Terps were also without freshman C Alex Len in Puerto Rico due to suspension. Len tallied zero points, zero rebounds, zero assists, zero blocks and zero steals to go with one turnover and two missed field goals in 20 minutes Saturday. It’s difficult to determine which scenario would have been preferable.
This is the part of the column where I note that Maryland was playing a second game in roughly 40 hours after recording a win over Boston College Thursday night in College Park. Neither Turgeon nor senior G Sean Mosley would use the turnaround as an excuse, but Turegon was willing to admit the span “was hard” on his team. Now I’ve noted it.
I should also probably note that a tip of the cap is warranted for Virginia F Mike Scott, who bowled over four different Maryland defenders en route to a 25 point, seven rebound performance. Scott’s dominance of the Terrapins was perhaps “Plumlee-esque” Saturday. Consider that noted as well.
Sitting nearly an entire level away from the JPJ Arena floor, I started to wonder if the Maryland players had quit in the second half. For what it’s worth, the coach disagreed.
“We didn’t quit, we just hung our head. I wouldn’t say we quit, we just kind of felt sorry for ourselves and weren’t competing as hard as we can compete. I know it might have looked that way a little bit, but I don’t think we quit.”
Perhaps the players never actually quit, but it was a brutal effort that came at a time where it would be easy to see the team give up a bit. This is a difficult stretch for a Maryland team that has frankly overachieved with a thin roster. The players are smart enough to know that there’s no hope of a NCAA Tournament at-large bid and even slim NIT hopes aren’t enticing enough to maintain a high level of energy until March. The only tangible difference between winning and losing at this point is the reaction generated from coaches and fans.
When things aren’t going their way, it is understandable that players may be a little more willing to pack it in down the stretch. It’s not a condemnation of the collective heart of this group of players, it’s just more a look at reality for a team that is too thin in both quantity and quality.
It’s also not an excuse for poor effort down the stretch. Maryland’s second half performance was absolutely unacceptable even against a Virginia team in need of a strong effort to hold on their place in the nation’s Top 25. Things won’t necessarily get any easier for Maryland, as bubble dwelling Miami invades Comcast Center Tuesday and the final three games of the regular season include a return contest with Scott and the Cavaliers plus trips to North Carolina and Georgia Tech.
If Turgeon thought the stretch after the Puerto Rico trip was going to be a challenge, it would be hard to find the right word to describe the rest of the season.
The word is definitely not “easy”. That much I know.