After Bruno Fernando rejected a Myles Cale layup and Darryl Morsell followed with a tough layup on the other end, Xfinity Center was electric. Maryland had a 61-57 lead with 5:38 to go, and with the crowd behind them and one more foul putting the Terps in the bonus, Maryland looked to be taking control of a back-and-forth game.
But like so many back-and-forth games involving the Terps the past two seasons, the Ghost of Close Games Past once again turned into the Ghost of Close Games Present.
“Today would’ve been an amazing win for our young team,” head coach Mark Turgeon said after the game. “We just didn’t make the plays when we had to make the plays.”
Following that Morsell layup, Seton Hall used a 13-3 run to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Pirates did what the Terps could not, using solid free throw shooting to build a lead and come away with a solid road victory. Seton Hall shot 15-of-17 from the foul line over the last 5:31, and guards Myles Powell and Cale each made all eight free throws they attempted.
On the other end, Maryland missed crucial free throws in key moments. With 6:52 left and the Terps leading 56-54, Morsell missed both his free throws after drawing a foul. Then with 5:13 to go and Maryland trailing 62-61, Jalen Smith made just one of two free throws to settle for tying the game. 50 seconds later, he missed the front end of a one-and-one that would’ve given the Terps the lead.
“Guys just have to get in the gym and make free throws, simple as that,” freshman guard Eric Ayala said. “Step up to the line, be confident and knock them down.”
In addition to poor free-throw shooting, Maryland’s offensive execution came to a halt down the stretch as well. After Cale hit a pair of free throws to give Seton Hall the lead for good with 3:15 to go, Maryland’s next three possessions resulted in a turnover, a Cowan hesitation shot blocked in the lane, and Smith running into Quincy McKnight while trying to set a screen. The Terps shot a respectable 46 percent from the field for the night, and had just two turnovers in the first 17 minutes of the second half, but the mistakes they made were poorly timed.
“We made some silly plays and we have to learn from it. It can’t happen again,” Turgeon said.” We just gotta play smarter.”
Even as Maryland technically stayed in the game late, the Terps couldn’t figure out a way to muster good shots down the stretch. Following a missed free throw by Sandro Mamukelashvili, Maryland called timeout trailing 71-68 with 52 seconds remaining. Turgeon said he called a slip-screen and dive for Fernando, but the possession ended with a three from the 6’10 sophomore bouncing off the back of the rim. Then with 20 seconds left, Ayala rushed a three early in the shot clock instead of looking for a better shot. Maryland wouldn’t have another chance to tie the game.
Before last year, Mark Turgeon could just rely on Melo Trimble to make a play when his team needed one. Maryland went 30-8 in games decided by less than two possessions, but has been looking for another closer even since he departed. The past two years, the Terps have gone 4-13 in those games. As Big Ten play gets closer, Maryland knows it needs to start reversing this trend.
“It doesn’t get any easier for us,” Turgeon said. “We know that.”