In case you were getting too excited after Maryland's seven-point win over Notre Dame, the Terrapins served you a healthy dose of reality with tonight's nail-biter against local foe Mount St. Mary's. Maryland, you see, is still a work-in-progress. And games like tonight's prove it.
The Terrapins allowed 11-21 shooting from beyond-the-arc, including 6-9 in the first half, and went seven minutes in the second half without a field goal. They blew a 16-point lead and trailed a 1-6 low-major in College Park within the 4:00 mark of the second half. Only on the strength of six consecutive points from Terrell Stoglin and a crucial block by Nick Faust were they able to escape, holding on for a too-close-for-comfort 77-74 win.
Stoglin, unsurprisingly, led the way with 23 points, the vast majority of which came in a strong first half performance. Maryland largely followed suit: they held a lead as large as 16 in the first half, but seemed flat in the second stanza. The Mount outscored the Terrapins by 10 in the second half, largely thanks to Maryland's terrible three-point defense, which we'll get to in a minute.
To start with, yes, this performance was probably a significant wake-up call: Mt. St. Mary's has never beaten Maryland or even lost to them by less than 28 (at least in the Gary Era), and they now stand at 1-7 on the year. No Terrapin team should ever be as close to losing to the Mountaineers as they were tonight. It's the type of game where you realize Maryland is far, far away from where they need to be.
But let's not get too off-kilter due to one result, either: a win's a win, and come January when Maryland's a drastically different team, no one will care that it was only a three-point win. Yes, this game highlighted some serious problems on this team, but everyone already should've known that Maryland's far from perfect. This season was always going to be a roller-coaster; let's wait to figure out whether there'll be more ups or downs before going to crazy one way or the other.
That said ... holy wow what was that defense? Was it really defense? Terrible rotation, inconsistent effort on closing out on open shots, double-teaming harmless post players, over-extending help defense - you name a bad defensive technique, and Maryland did it.
The Mountaineers seemed to make it their gameplan to try to get open shots, and Maryland took the bait every time: they'd over-extend their help off screens and leave the screener open; they'd double-down on a post player only to have it kicked back out; they'd slide in to try to cut off a driver and leave their man open in the corner. And each time, Maryland's defensive rotation was found lacking.
Heck, even the critical possession late in the game where the Terrapins had a one-point lead and Faust blocked the shot wasn't really as good as it seemed. Maryland had need of Faust's heroics because of horrible defense that allowed an otherwise open layup. Even when the outcome was good, the performance wasn't great.
You can bet Mark Turgeon will crunch the film of this one and have his guys working on close outs and rotation all week long in practice. When Mt. St. Mary's goes 52% from deep on you, what'll happen against Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, and Andre Dawkins? (Bad things.)
Compounding the problem were some serious struggles in half-court offense, where they looked like they were across from Alabama again. During that disastrous second half, they failed to run sets, they made silly mistakes (Stoglin threw the ball away at least once and Faust simply fell down or slipped at least twice), or simply occasionally failed to finish. It's not like we didn't already know it, but if you forgot: at least right now, when Stoglin struggles, Maryland struggles with him.
The poor performance in the second half was a shame, actually, because the first was actually quite good, at least apart from the perimeter defense issues. The 45 points they dropped might be a high for any half all season, and it wasn't just through Stoglin: James Padgett and Ashton Pankey were very productive on the interior, where they overmatched their less-imposing opposition. Faust even got in on the act.
In fact, the performances of Padgett and Faust should stand out. Padgett especially looked good: he finished with 15 and looked like he was trying to prove that he could be a real low-post scorer and not just a garbage man. He got a lot of looks, especially in the first half, and converted most of them. His bread-and-butter is still the dirty work - he finished with three offensive boards, including a nice put-back slam - but his game is rapidly improving, and it's a sight to see. He still needs to work on free throws (he was 1-6 today), because if he could become a 70% shooter or so, he'd be quite the player.
Faust will probably be the guy everyone wants to talk about, though: he had a few brilliant defensive moments, had a 6-6 performance from the stripe, and hit a critical three-pointer to give Maryland a late lead. Today was a total win for him, especially if this boosts his confidence back to pre-season levels (11 on the Swag-O-Meter, so on and so forth). The most impressive Faust stat, though? Five assists to only two turnovers, both of which I believe were when he slipped. I still don't want him handling the ball in critical situations, but he's developing a better mind for the game, and that'll serve him well when he moves back off the ball.
Two other quick individual notes: Pankey was very quiet in the second half, but looked active in the first, getting to the line a lot and bringing a very important 13 points off the bench. Sean Mosley was just plain quiet: he brought great passing, great defense, and solid rebounding, but finished 2-8 from the field and had only four second-half points, all coming on free throws. I'm not too upset by that because people need to accept that that's who he is, and that if Maryland was a better team you'd find yourself praising the defense and not criticizing the lack of offense. But yes, a nice second-half three-pointer or two would've been welcome from Sugar Sean today.
In the end, Maryland got the win, which is always the most important thing. In terms of progress, you didn't see a lot of it today, but you saw a lot of places they could get better. Now the thing will be seeing if they actually do improve in these areas. We only have to wait a week to find out, as the Terrapins welcome a tougher foe in FIU to the Comcast Center on the 14th. Play like this again, and that result won't be pretty either.