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Maryland men’s basketball’s problems in the first half are alarming

The Terps’ woes in the first half are something to keep an eye on.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland men’s basketball has not gotten off to the start that many had hoped for. It was a season of expectations for the Terps, who started off No. 21 in the AP Top 25 poll and even worked their way up one spot after the second week. But those expectations of a top team in the nation were seemingly too high, or at least, so it seems at this point in the season.

But then again, Maryland has the talent with its starting five to excel in the Big Ten and outside of the conference. It has the pieces on the bench to complement the rest of the scoring prowess that lies within the starting lineup that Mark Turgeon rolls out on a game-to-game basis.

So what’s the problem? On paper, Maryland has the looks of a top-25 team. That’s what was expected of it with the quality returning players and highly-regarded transfers that have come in. However, looks can be deceiving especially as we are only seven games into the 2021-22 campaign.

At times, the program does look like a strong and competitive unit. Yet that hasn’t been the case for the most part. Not only have the Terps been inconsistent, specifically on offense, but they haven’t been close production-wise where it needs to be in the first halves of games. In fact, slow starts in the first half were the main reasons behind Maryland’s two losses, and it could’ve easily compiled more defeats in the process.

Maryland has been flat-out beaten and out-classed in the first half of a significant portion of its games this season, despite playing opponents that were previously believed to not be on par with the talent that resides on the Terps’ roster. The first half against Louisville, their second defeat of the season in which it scored a season-low 55 points, was a culmination of the Terps’ ineffectiveness over the course of the opening 20 minutes in each game that they’ve played in so far.

“Every game that we lose gonna hurt,” guard Fatts Russell said after the Louisville game. “That’s just how we are, we’re competitors, we don’t teach losing, when you wear Maryland on your chest you just expect to win.”

It wasn't all bad for Maryland against Louisville right away. The Terps did jump out to an 18-13 lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the first half. Maryland’s defense got off to an excellent start and forced Louisville into a few turnovers, while the offense seemed to get rid of its early-game woes.

But the problems came soon enough. Maryland was getting pounded on the glass, and it eventually got out-rebounded by 17 at the end of 20 minutes. The deficit was just five heading into halftime, and if it weren’t for a good opening 12 minutes, then it could’ve been much worse.

“We gotta get a lot tougher on the glass,” head coach Mark Turgeon said about the loss to Louisville. “It’s gotta become a habit or we’re just gonna end up being a mediocre team until we figure that out, but I can’t remember last time one of my teams got out-rebounded like that.”

The Terps’ shooting struggled in the first half, too. Maryland hit just nine of its first 25 attempts from the floor, good enough for just 36%, while the three-point shooting didn’t fare much better with a 1-for-5 clip.

Louisville finished the first half on a 19-9 run and Maryland eventually went on to lose the full game, 63-55, despite recapturing the lead late in the second half.

But it hasn’t just been the first half in the Louisville game. If it was solely that game where Maryland found little success in the opening half, then the Terps would still likely find themselves within the top-25. It’s been a recurring issue that they will need to correct, and they will need to correct it soon.

In five of the Terps’ seven games this season, they have found themselves trailing at halftime. Maryland has been at a deficit going into the break against George Washington, Vermont, George Mason, Richmond and then Louisville. Some of those deficits at half are warranted, but most of them were self-inflicted. The Terps have had a problem with playing down to their opponent, which was the case in the games against George Washington, Vermont and even George Mason, a program that has dropped four straight since upsetting Maryland in College Park.

It hasn’t been pretty in the first half for Maryland all season and the numbers truly tell an intriguing tale.

In the five games that Maryland was trailing at halftime, in four of them it shot under 38% from the field. There have only been three games so far this season in which Maryland shot above 40% from the floor in the first half.

In the opening half, the Terps are averaging just 32.2 points off 41.9% shooting and 25.2% shooting from three-point range. That’s not good enough for a team that’s supposed to have a well-balanced attack on offense with shooters all over the floor.

The best first half the Terps had came against Quinnipiac when it scored a season-high 41 points after 20 minutes. But since then, Maryland’s first halves have been far from perfect. Especially in the last two games, when the Terps shot 35.5% against Richmond and 36% in the matchup with Louisville in the first half.

If you take away Maryland’s 16-point lead at half against Quinnipiac, the Terps are a minus-17 in the first half against its opponents combined.

However, even though Maryland has trudged through its first halves on multiple occasions, its second-half efforts have helped keep it afloat. Compared to the first half, Maryland adds more than six points on average in the second half and shoots 2.5% better from the field. It even sees a 5% increase from beyond in the arc in the second half as well.

Clearly, there’s something about the sense of urgency that makes Maryland play better in the second halves of games when it finds itself down on the scoreboard. But to be a top-25 team, it can’t keep finding itself in scenarios where it is down heading into the final 20 minutes.

It’s easier said than done, but luckily for Maryland, it has a well-rounded lineup and enough bench pieces to get the job done moving forward.

Next up will be the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and it will be the Virginia Tech Hokies coming to College Park who have a 5-2 record, the same as the Terps. Virginia Tech won its opening five games of the season and it has been fairly solid in the first half this season.

The Hokies, who are still receiving votes in the most recent AP Top 25 poll, have trailed at halftime just twice in their first seven games. They average over 40 points per first half, nearly eight more points than Maryland is scoring in the first 20 minutes of each game. It’s safe to say that Maryland will face one of its most-talented opponents yet.

“Virginia Tech was like us, they were right around being ranked in the top-25 and they’re really good,” Turgeon said of Virginia Tech. “They’re a little bit older, they got great guards that can shoot it, their big guys play so hard, they’re extremely well-coached. So yeah, it’s what everybody thought it was going to be, that’s why they put us together. We were both teams that were picked top-25, top-30 in the country so it’s going to be a great game.”

Keep in mind, the two times that Virginia Tech trailed at the half it was against ranked opponents. It was losing by just three to then-No. 9 Memphis when they met in Brooklyn, New York and down eight at half to then-No. 25 Xavier in which it ended up falling by just one.

The Hokies present another strong challenge for a Maryland team that is still finding its footing. But with Big Ten play looming in the near distance and an upcoming matchup with No. 14 Florida in 11 days, it’s important now more than ever for the Terps to get it going in the first half against Virginia Tech to set the tone for the rest of the game.

The problems in the first half are evident for Maryland, and if it finds itself settling into its inefficient ways in the opening half when it faces off with Virginia Tech, then it will certainly spell trouble once again.

It’s a good thing for Maryland that the games are 40 minutes long.