Maryland men’s basketball’s early-season losing streak was extended to three games in a decisive 57-40 loss at Villanova on Friday. The Terps trailed for the entire game and fell into a deep deficit early.
Here are three takeaways from the contest.
Road struggles haven’t gone away
Since Kevin Willard took over at Maryland, his teams have frequently looked lost on the road. In their first true road game of the year, the Terps were run out of Philadelphia.
When the first-half buzzer sounded, Maryland trailed 39-15.
Freshman guard DeShawn Harris-Smith recalled Willard’s halftime message: “He just said we gotta keep fighting. It’s embarrassing losing like that. So we got to take that to the heart, give a little more pride, give a little more effort.”
Maryland’s second half was slightly better, but trailing by more than 20 at the half is an insurmountable challenge.
Most concerning is that these trends are not unique since Willard took over. Last year against Michigan, the Terps scored 13 points in the first half. They followed that up with a 17-point first-half display against Rutgers. Even though it’s objectively more difficult to win on the road, there are few teams over the last two seasons that have looked more uncomfortable away from their home floor than Maryland.
The good news is that last year’s Maryland squad managed to catch a groove and, despite continuing to struggle deeply on the road, won an NCAA Tournament game and came within one rebound of finishing second in the Big Ten.
The bad news: this is no longer simply a last year problem. Maryland’s road struggles have seeped into this team and threaten the Terps’ ultimate ambitions.
Willard made sure to emphasize in the preseason that he felt as though his team would need time to figure itself out and may struggle early. It’s hard to imagine even he knew those problems would be this dramatic.
Complete lack of offensive cohesion
The 40 points the Terps managed were the fewest they’ve scored in a game in the shot-clock era.
To say Maryland couldn’t string together successful offensive possessions would be a massive understatement. A more accurate diagnosis would be that the Terps looked like they had no clue how to penetrate Villanova’s defense, and when they did manage to generate open looks, they were off the mark.
Maryland shot just 24% from the field, also making only 19% of its three-point attempts. Jahmir Young went 3-for-10 on field goals, part of a Maryland starting lineup — one that included freshman Jamie Kaiser Jr. for the first time — that combined to shoot 8-for-33 from the field.
It wasn’t just bad shooting, either. The Terps were plagued by numerous mental mistakes, frequently losing track of the shot clock and often failing to move the ball inside the three-point arc before a desperation heave with only seconds to shoot.
“I thought we’d struggle a little bit. I didn’t think we’d struggle this bad offensively to start,” Willard said. “But I do know where we’ll be at the end of the year. Although I’m worried right now, I have great confidence in these guys.”
Maryland’s lack of cohesion on offense is not a phenomenon that made its first appearance Friday night. It has been noticeable in all four of its games this season, and even though defensive lapses have been prevalent, a failure to put the ball in the basket has primarily been the Terps’ bane.
It’s easy to blame the many newcomers on the roster for some struggles, but scoring only 40 points in your first true road game is indicative of serious issues.
“This schedule has not been conducive to growing this team, and that’s my fault,” Willard said. “Jahmir’s struggled, Julian’s struggled — that’s not their fault. That’s my fault. This is a bad schedule.”
Time to sound the alarm?
Maryland is only four games into a 31-game regular season, which alone should be plenty to find solace in. But the nature of those four games tells a different story, and many have rightfully brought tough questions to the forefront.
Losses to Davidson and UAB were reason enough to be deeply concerned about the team’s direction. But Friday’s loss, a resoundingly noncompetitive one, was the worst of the bunch.
Even so, not all is lost. The last time Maryland started 1-3 was 23 years ago. By the end of that season, the Terps were playing in the Final Four.
Despite that not being an apples-to-apples comparison, this point still reigns true: there is plenty of time for Maryland to figure it out. In a sport where success hinges so precariously on results in March, it’s impossible to come to complete conclusions in November.
“A lot of people are doubting us and saying the season’s done and all this other stuff,” forward Donta Scott said. “... We lost a couple of games that we shouldn’t have lost early on and that’s all on the team. So we just got to get back in there and really just work.”
The clock is officially ticking on Maryland to figure out its issues. The longer the Terps continue to play like they have, the easier it will be to conclude that the performance they put forth on Friday — not the ones they hope to showcase later in the season — is what they really are.