If Maryland and their fans needed a reality check, the game against Florida State served quite nicely.
The Terrapins had won 13 in a row coming into Wednesday's game, but the competition was at a level that, honestly, little could be gleaned from the steak until a higher level of foe was faced. Florida State wasn't the target opponent most were looking forward to, but it turned out that the Seminoles served up some cold hard truths all the same.
The 'Noles were struggling to some degree coming into the game, but they have a tough, physical brand of basketball that challenged the Terrapins. It exposed a few big-time weaknesses, in particular the lack of a go-to scorer offensively, the youth throughout the roster, and the tendency to stop executing when put under defensive pressure. Teams will look to replicate this type of blueprint against Maryland, and the rest of the year will be a challenge.
It's so disappointing, of course, because it looked for much of the game like the Terps were going to run away with an easy victory. They dominated the first half and might've even put the game out of reach in the opening twenty minutes, were it not for a disappointing 11 turnovers. That dominance continued into the first five minutes of the second half, and it genuinely seemed like Maryland, by far the better team up 'til that point, was going to coast home.
That's when FSU turned the tables. They increased their defensive pressure, got more physical - and the referees, crucially, allowed them to - and began converting on the other end with easy fast break opportunities. Maryland, meanwhile, got flustered, going six-and-a-half minutes without scoring, a stretch during which they missed eleven field goals. Mark Turgeon refused to call a timeout until after Florida State had already grabbed the lead, and before that it was six minutes of Maryland digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole, making worse and worse decisions and running less and less of their offense. It was a disappointing and jarring lack of composure, especially given how well Maryland's executed offensively throughout the year, and it cost them what would've been a big win.
Despite everything we've seen from Maryland so far this year, it's important to remember just how young they really are. Sometimes you can forget it, but even the team's leaders, Alex Len and Dez Wells, are only sophomores. There's no steadying force on the roster, it would seem, not even at point guard, where Pe`Shon Howard and Seth Allen were mistake-ridden like everyone else. (An interesting note: just like in the loss against Kentucky, Maryland had a shot at a game-tying bucket at the end of the game, only to see their point guard dribble to the top of the key and launch a contested jumper, passing up open opportunities elsewhere. I'd be very surprised if that was what Mark Turgeon drew up, but it might be time to work on that a little more.) And there's certainly no go-to scorer who can break down a defense or get his own shot, which would've come in mighty handy once things broke down and the game opened up.
These can be counteracted over time, as the young kids grow up and guys like Wells and Len learn more how to assert themselves during games. I had mentioned before the game, too, that Maryland was going to have a game where their big offensive options just didn't show up, and that they'd lose that game to a mid-tier ACC team. I didn't expect it to be today, but it was. It was predictable, though, that it would eventually happen; it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be the norm. The question has been raised, but the jury is still out.
The wake-up call has finally come: Maryland might be a very good team this year, but they're also young and unproven, and making grand sweeping statements about their future, while always foolish given their competition, now looks particularly ill-advised. There's still a lot of balance and a lot of talent on this team; they were, after all, still only one made basket away from winning this game. It's time to wait it out and see how they can respond to one of their first real setbacks of the season. Either way, though, the honeymoon - or at least the first stage of it - is over.