Maryland basketball had a number of hidden problems covered up by memorable late-game finishes during its 7-0 start. The team’s been turnover prone, had difficulty scoring during long stretches, and above all, shot extremely poorly from the field. The Terps made it work until the Pittsburgh Panthers came to College Park and dominated them for most of Tuesday night, winning 73-59.
To win their first seven games, the Terps compensated for their missed jump shots by drawing fouls at the rim and redeeming themselves at the free throw line. An aggressive Pittsburgh zone, which allowed them just 12 free throw attempts, stripped away that option. Reality hit a little.
The Terrapins came into Tuesday night’s contest shooting 42.3 percent from the field, which ranks 13th of 14 teams in the Big Ten. They’re just as bad from three-point range, shooting 31.3 percent.
That shouldn’t get the job done, but until Tuesday night, it miraculously had. Maryland had shooters getting open shots, but they weren’t falling, and that finally came back to bite them. The good news for this team is that they have some time to figure things out. College basketball is a long season, and it’s tough to believe this struggle will continue much longer.
Putting the ball in the hoop was supposed to be one of Maryland’s strengths. It has Melo Trimble, after all, and one of the nation’s most highly touted freshmen shooters in Kevin Huerter. Trimble is shooting just 33 percent from distance, and Huerter an even worse 30 percent.
Nobody’s picked up the slack either, save for a now-on-the-decline Justin Jackson. Guards who were expected to be contributors on the offensive end of the bench haven’t been. Jaylen Brantley has hit just three of 15 shots from deep and 35 percent of shots in total, while Anthony Cowan has only made four of 23 from behind the arc. But it’s been the more experienced players in the backcourt who have truly underperformed.
Dion Wiley has hit just 6-of-18 from distance, and is shooting 29 percent from the field as a whole. He’s looked like an able shooter in short stretches, but he’s been inconsistent coming off an MCL tear that cost him all of last season.
“Dion’s coming off a major injury and we can’t forget that,” said Turgeon prior to his team’s game against Pitt. “For nine months he didn’t play, he was a backup role guy as a freshman. It’s just gonna take time for Dion. I just want to get him comfortable rebounding and defending and taking care of the ball and taking open shots. That’s the next step.”
His classmate Jared Nickens is shooting a much worse 14 percent from the field and has only knocked down five of his 26 three-point shots. Nickens saw his playing time go down significantly in the past two games as his production further diminished. He’s seen the floor for just 11 minutes in the past two contests combined, not only because of poor accuracy but also for failing to contain opposing wings on defense.
“Jared didn’t get a lot of opportunities,” Turgeon said prior to Tuesday’s game. “Hopefully when he does get his opportunity he’ll feel a little more comfortable. We’re still trying to figure out the rotation. Once the game starts I just try to figure out how to win the game. If Jared’s gonna help us do that, we’ll stick with him.”
Turgeon will need that duo, along with the rest of his rotation, to hit the open shots they’re given. There have been a number of looks that just haven’t gone the team’s way. That bit has been frustrating.
“Please zone us,” Turgeon pleaded after a game when his team made just 28 percent of its threes, falling into Pitt’s scheme by missing 15 straight at one point. “Please zone us. We’re gonna make shots. We’re gonna be great against the zone. I was thrilled to play against the zone. Zone us. We’re gonna be good.”
He has a point. His team rimmed out countless open or at least semi-open looks. Shooting can go wrong in a number of ways, whether by physical or mental fatigue. Maryland, starting three freshmen, was bound to run into trouble at some point. Playing five games in nine days isn’t easy no matter the experience. But up and down the roster, Maryland just didn’t shoot the ball to its potential in November.
The good news is that four months remain in the season and December is a day away. The Terps won’t touch a ball until then.
“We’re going to take the day off,” Turgeon said. “I told them they can’t watch film, they can’t come by, they can’t shoot. We just need to get away from it because it’s been a lot.”
Maryland resumes play on Saturday against Oklahoma State. His team’s shooting woes might not magically be cured by then, but Turgeon’s confident he’ll start seeing the ball go through the net.
“We’re going to be a great zone offense team. We have great shooters. We’ve got guys who can penetrate. We’ve got some big guys around the rim. It just wasn’t our night.”