Maryland lost their third straight game Thursday night falling 72-63 to NC State in Raleigh. That sentence contains two phrases I never anticipated writing about the women's basketball team: Maryland lost their third straight game and falling to NC State.
For all the praise I heaped on the Terps early in the season, they seem to have regressed over the last five games including the two wins at home against Syracuse and Georgia Tech. After the loss to Notre Dame at home Monday night, I noted five problems I thought Maryland needed to address to recapture get back on track. Through the course of this recap we'll see how they fared.
My first note was to eliminate slow starts. This applied not only to the opening minutes but to the entire first half. In Raleigh Thursday, the Terps first four possessions were: (1) missed three pointer; (2) turnover; (3) missed three pointer; (4) missed jumper. NC State's first three possessions were: (1) made layup; (2) made layup; (3) made jumper in the paint. However, the Terps recovered from this on their next seven possessions with two three pointers by Lexie Brown and three baskets from Alyssa Thomas as Maryland while State was going 0 for 5 with two turnovers as the Terps took a 12-6 lead. Thomas continued her hot shooting dropping in two more buckets to open the game 5 for 5 as Maryland doubled up the Wolfpack 16-8 when the home team called a timeout that served as the under twelve minute media break.
Coming out of the break, Brown's third and fourth three pointers of the half on back to back possessions gave the Terrapins their largest lead at ten with just over eleven minutes to go. Maryland held this margin into the under eight minute timeout leading 27-18. In a bit of an omen, State made a strong run scoring eleven straight to take a two point lead before Tierney Pfirman's twelve foot jumper from the left baseline stemmed the tide and knotted the score at twenty-nine. Following an NC State hoop, Katie Rutan hit a three pointer and made a steal finding Brown on the fast break to put the Terps in front by three and they would eventually carry a five point 38-33 lead into the half.
So, perhaps they eliminated the slow start but a closer look says only in part because the slow start had to be eliminated on both ends of the floor. Taking that closer look reveals that the home team shot nearly 52 percent for the half. So while they had a stretch of good defense to spur the twelve point run, they failed to maintain the intensity for the half. And this then relates to my second point which was that they had to play forty minutes of strong defense. Not only did State shoot 51.6 percent, they scored 28 points in the paint for the half. The Terps shot 53.3% from the floor in the first half including making 5 of 9 from behind the arc. A more consistent defensive effort would have yielded a larger lead.
Point three and four in my analysis were that Maryland needed to control the glass and protect the ball. The first half stats showed the right direction on one and left the other in some doubt. The Terps held a 17-13 edge on the glass but had nine turnovers. However, they did force the Wolfpack into seven turnovers of their own so the plus four in rebounds may have acceptably negated the minus two in turnovers. The second half would tell the tale.
Maryland opened with possession and the teams traded turnovers to open the half but Pfirman and Thomas played catch after Pfirman's steal and she earned herself a layup and a seven point Terrapin lead. An 8-3 State run cut the lead to two at 43-41 but the Terps responded by scoring ten of the next thirteen to take a 53-44 lead with 12:21 to play forcing State to call a timeout.
And from this pint, the women's team seemed to morph into the bad version of the men's team. It wasn't simply that they went seven and a half minutes without scoring. And it wasn't simply that they allowed State to run off fourteen straight and take a four point lead. It was they way they went about it. They seemed confused by the home team's changing defenses - sometimes man to man and sometimes as a box and one on Thomas. They settled for jumpers and didn't penetrate into the lane either with the dribble or the pass. While some of the shots were reasonably good looks that you might expect them to make, over a stretch of ten possessions, Maryland missed three mid-range jumpers, four three pointers, and turned the ball over three times. Thus with 4:52 to play, the Terps found themselves looking at a 57-53 deficit - a deficit from which they'd never recover.
Meanwhile, not only had their 38-33 halftime lead disappeared but their 17-13 rebounding edge had become a 33-26 deficit. Though they did manage to turn up their defense, holding the Pack to 36.4%, State returned the favor as the Terps shot only 36,8% to that point. Oh, and my fifth point that they needed to regain their three point shooting touch had turned from 5 for 9 in the first half to 5 for 16 three quarters of the way through the second half. By game's end that total sank to five for twenty-three.
Despite all these woes, Pfirman again hit a jumper that staunched the hemorrhaging and a rebound by Rutan led to a fast break layup by Brown that tied the score with 4:11 to play. NC State's fourth three pointer of the half put the home squad in front to stay. The Terps, who were in foul some foul trouble after having committed the seventh team foul with over twelve minutes to play had four possessions to narrow the gap as State was whistled for their fourth, fifth, and sixth fouls in the forty of fifty seconds following the three point jumper. The last of those possessioins ended in a turnover and a Maryland foul on the fast break.
Trailing by just five with 2:57 to play, Maryland allowed the final minutes of the game to turn into a three point shooting versus a free throw shooting contest. As the Terps missed theirs, the Wolfpack made theirs. Maryland missed five three pointers while NC State made ten of twelve free throws. Maryland did manage to toss in a few barely defended layups to reach their final total of sixty three points.
So to wrap up, the Terps began the game needing to improve in five basic areas. Though they took a few small steps, they ended the game still needing to improve in those areas. And as with the previous two losses, they don't have much time to turn things around and the schedule is not very forgiving. Maryland travels to Syracuse for a noon game on Sunday. Syracuse decisively lost the first half in the game at Comcast Center two weeks ago but played the Terps evenly in the second half. And on the same night Maryland lost in Raleigh, Syracuse won in Chapel Hill.