Then-No. 4 Maryland men’s basketball head coach Mark Turgeon had just escaped the court-storming crowd on Dec. 10 in State College, Pennsylvania, and sat in front of reporters where he expressed his concern for his team playing six games in 13 days, which can be a challenge when attempting to establish an offense at the start of the season.
After seven days without a game due to graduation and finals, the No. 7 Terps traveled to Newark, New Jersey, to meet Seton Hall — minus its two leading scorers in Myles Powell and Sandro Mamukelashvili — on Dec. 19, which resulted in a 52-48 loss.
But despite the break, Maryland still couldn’t catch one offensively, leading to the team’s second loss to an unranked opponent on the road and a forage for some sort of offensive rhythm.
“We haven’t got much better,” Anthony Cowan Jr. said after the loss to Seton Hall. “We just haven’t really been doing anything really — anything beneficial to our team. We put some good offenses in — that coach put in, just haven’t executed. ... It’s something we have to fix.”
Against the Nittany Lions, the Terps continued their bad habit of getting off to a slow start, though it was more muddle with turnovers than usual. In the first 12 minutes of play, Maryland committed 12 turnovers and finished the game with season-high 20.
Many of those came on miscues between teammates — such as when Makhi Mitchell attempted to hit Cowan on a backdoor cut during the team’s opening possession, or when Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins couldn’t connect on an average pass to the wing. Both plays resulted in the ball rolling out of bounds.
Maryland also struggled to score and made only 33 percent of its shots, which, at the time, was tied for the team’s worst shooting performance of the season. But such could be expected for a team that played six games in 13 days and was on the verge of a long break.
Following the Terps’ first loss of the season, Turgeon gave his team off the next two days, allowing his guys to study and focus on finals before preparing for Seton Hall.
The team returned to the hardwood on Dec. 13 with a new emphasis on the attention to detail, which was something it didn’t do well against the Nittany Lions.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys starting to lock in a little more — really paying attention to the little things and make those priorities,” Wiggins said five days after the loss.
Those little things Wiggins was referring to — which he said includes having a strong understanding of the scouting report, cutting hard and talking more defensively — can separate a win from a loss and a good team from a great one.
Turgeon said that his practices leading up to Seton Hall consisted of a lot of shooting and stressed low-post scoring — another component of Maryland’s offense that hasn’t bloomed.
Through 11 games, the Terps were shooting a meager 42.6 percent from the field, 30.8 percent from beyond the arc and 71.5 percent from the free throw line.
“We did a lot of shooting,” Turgeon said on Dec. 17 about his team’s focus in practice before the matchup with Seton Hall. “We haven’t shot the ball well this year — maybe that’s who we are. I don’t know. ...But I’d like to think that we’re going to be more consistent shooting the ball as we go forward.”
Part of Maryland’s lack of paint production has been largely due to the absence of Bruno Fernando, who would clog the lane and provide points in the paint for the team last year. This year, that role has shifted to natural stretch forward Jalen Smith. The Baltimore native has been strong in the scoring and rebounding areas, currently possessing seven double-doubles, but has had a tough time against lengthier competition.
In the first nine game of the season, Maryland outscored its opponents 328-188 in the paint. But against their first two Big Ten opponents — Illinois and Penn State — the Terps only scored 38 points in the paint, while the Fighting Illini and the Nittany Lions combined for 60.
That trend continued into Maryland’s meeting with Seton Hall. For the first time this season, the Terps were outscored in the paint, 26-16, by a nonconference opponent, and their 16 points tied a season low that was set the game prior against Penn State.
Although it had time to prepare, Maryland’s offense and shooting did not look much better against the Pirates than it did against the Nittany Lions nine days prior. Off one of the Terps’ offensive rebounds around the 12-minute mark in the first half, Cowan was hit with a pass from Ayala near the top of the key and scored his first points of the game.
Cowan’s three was the last field goal that Maryland hit until the 2:05 mark in the first half. During that span, the Terps received three points off of free throws, but they also turned the ball over eight times.
They finished with 17 turnovers, which is the second most this season, and shot a season-low 27 percent from the field. With the poor shooting performance, Maryland’s field goal average dropped to 41.5 percent on the season.
“It was just a matter of us executing and translating it from — going from practice to the games,” Wiggins said after the loss to Seton Hall. “We’ve been good with it in practice, but we’ve just got to be more consistent with it — make sure that we transfer it over again.”
One could have expected Maryland to perform better offensively with the break in between games, but that did not happen against the Pirates. The Terps scored a season low 48 points and lost to an opponent they should have beaten.
“We just didn’t play well offensively. We didn’t recognize situations,” Turgeon said after the loss to Seton Hall. “Sometimes you gotta hit rock bottom. I don’t know if it is rock bottom — we’ll see — but if it is, then maybe we’ll come back and be a little bit better after Christmas.”
Maryland will now have until another slight break before taking on its last nonconference opponent in Bryant at home on Dec. 29, allowing the team to right the offensive struggles before facing a deep Big Ten conference.
“We just got to realize that nothing is going to come easy. We’ve got to go out there and fight,” Wiggins said. “Everybody has to have the same mentality, be locked in with the same game plan.”