No. 20 Maryland men’s basketball’s late surge and shooting guard Eric Ayala’s attempt at an improbable comeback fell short Wednesday night as the Terps suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of George Mason on Wednesday night in College Park.
Maryland’s defense struggled to contain the Patriots’ top players and as head coach Mark Turgeon said after the game, Maryland has a long way to go to get to the heights they know they are capable of climbing this season
Let’s take a look at some takeaways from the loss.
Maryland’s defense fell apart against George Mason’s fast offense
Following a second-half defensive clinic against Vermont last Tuesday, one that Turgeon called one of the best defensive displays he’s ever seen from his teams, and one that launched Maryland’s comeback win, the Terps laid an egg on the defensive end against a potent George Mason offense.
The Patriots play with a ton of pace and can knock down shots all over the floor, which has led them to a 4-0 start. Despite trying different defensive looks by playing both man and zone, Maryland had no answers for George Mason.
George Mason was averaging 83 points per game heading into College Park. Those matchups were against lesser opponents than the Terps, and while they didn't reach that average, the Patriots still put on an offensive show on Wednesday night.
Even when Maryland made a run late in the second half and searched for the necessary defensive stops to propel itself to victory, George Mason always found a way to get the ball in the hoop. Maryland had cut the Patriots' lead to three with under four minutes to go in the game, but the Patriots responded right back with a 5-0 run of their own, essentially putting the game away.
Two players, in particular, were able to get going and carry the Patriots’ offensive attack: guards D’Shawn Schwartz and DeVon Cooper.
Schwartz went off for 24 points on 6-10 shooting from three and Cooper finished with 16 points on 50% shooting from long range. Maryland needs to improve on guarding the opposing teams' stars and force other players to score.
“It [the defense] wasn't outstanding tonight and that’s why we ended up losing,” Turgeon said.
Donta Scott finally had a breakthrough game
With about six minutes to go in the game and Maryland trailing by nine, forward Donta Scott crashed the offensive boards, looking to create a valuable extra possession for Maryland. He secured the offensive rebound, went up with it, nailed the short turnaround and got fouled on the play for the And-1. The three-point play sparked a flare in a dead and quiet arena, one in which Maryland struggled on both ends all evening.
It was exactly what the doctor ordered as the play sparked a 6-0 run that saw Maryland cut its deficit to three. Despite failing to complete the comeback, the play was an embodiment of the performance Scott put on, his undisputedly best of the season so far.
The junior forward had been struggling in recent games, forcing shots and failing to efficiently score as everyone expected him to coming into the year. It was only a matter of time until he found his groove as one of Maryland’s go-to scorers in a balanced scoring attack.
That breakout game in the young 2021-22 season was Wednesday night as Scott scored an efficient 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Scott started the game 4-for-4 from the field and 3-for-3 from three-point land.
Scott shot 43% from three last season, so it was only a matter of time before his 18% three-point field goal percentage through three games got a boost. Scott is a terrific three-level scorer who can find buckets in a variety of ways. When the offense goes through him, Maryland is better off.
Against George Mason on Wednesday night, Scott didn't force shots. He played within the offense and took advantage of scoring opportunities when available. What makes Scott a complete player isn't just his scoring prowess, he is also a willing rebounder and a solid defender.
“I’m proud of Donta,” Ayala said. “He didn't get off to the start that he wanted... for him to come out there and give us the energy we needed, I was definitely proud of him.”
Scott grabbed 10 boards against the Patriots and had one monster block. Even in a loss when other Terps— besides Ayala— struggled to get going offensively, it’s encouraging for Turgeon and his staff to see their star perform at a high level offensively.
As Maryland looks to bounce back from the loss, it will be vital for Scott to continue to be aggressive and efficient on the offensive end. Now the rest of his teammates just need to be on par with him.
This time Maryland couldn't overcome its halftime deficit
Wednesday’s loss was the third straight game Maryland trailed at halftime. In the previous two games against George Washington and Vermont, the Terps created a second-half surge led by its defense that allowed them to come back and escape with wins. Those slow first halves finally caught up to them against George Mason, where Maryland couldn't overcome the deficit, despite a late push.
A large part of the slow starts has been because of Maryland’s shooting struggles and inability to stop the opposing team’s top player. Maryland has allowed other teams' stars to let loose in its first four games, including against George Mason on Wednesday night.
Both Turgeon and certain players remarked on how they believed they approached some of these early games expecting and deserving to win instead of earning it. This has led to some poor practices prior to games, including Tuesday’s before George Mason.
“We didn't approach things right yesterday so hopefully that'll teach them a lesson,” Turgeon said. “I had to get on them yesterday in practice quite a bit. I had to say some language I don't like really saying and I don't usually use that much because we just took the day off.”
While no one wants to find itself in the losing column, especially in a game it was favored to win, this loss can be a learning experience for a Maryland group that is still learning how to play together in a young season. It can serve as a wake-up call that can help the group with its slow starts moving forward.