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Maryland men’s basketball has weaknesses exposed in loss to Clemson

The Terps lack of perimeter creation was severely exposed by Clemson on Wednesday night.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Prior to its contest with Clemson on Wednesday, this year’s Maryland men’s basketball squad looked to be adjusting well to the departures of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith — two of the team’s primary scoring threats from a season ago.

In the opening four games against the likes of Old Dominion, Navy, Mount St. Mary’s and Saint Peter’s, the Terps’ offense looked like it was already in midseason form, averaging 84 points per game in four decisive blowout victories. However, Maryland’s scoring attack finally came crashing down to Earth against the Tigers, putting forth one of its worst offensive displays in recent memory in the 67-51 loss.

“I think our experience showed a little bit,” junior guard Eric Ayala said. “We don’t have the type of leaders that we had previously, and I think it was a big progress moving forward for us leaders.”

The team’s inability to attack efficiently on Wednesday was a stark departure from how Maryland had been scoring the ball so far this season. Through its first four games, the Terps had shot 55.9 percent from the field, which ranked 8th in all of Division I, and 43.1 percent from beyond the arc.

Maryland also had nearly six different players averaging double-figures in scoring in Ayala (15.3), Aaron Wiggins (10.8), Hakim Hart (12.8), Donta Scott (11.8), Darryl Morsell (9.3) and Jairus Hamilton (9.8), a testament to the balanced and efficient nature of Maryland’s offensive approach this season.

It was a completely different story against the Tigers, though, who bullied the Terps into shooting just 40 percent from the field while never really allowing for an offensive rhythm to develop.

“It’s the first time we played this year that like denied all the passes and stuff like that, and I think that contributed to us not getting out to a great start,” Morsell said.

Many of Maryland’s problems offensively were born out of a lack of options in regards to perimeter creation. Cowan alleviated many of those issues during his tenure with the Terps, with his ability to consistently beat his defender off the dribble forcing opposing defenses to rotate that opened up space for his teammates.

The absence of such a player was painfully apparent throughout the loss, as Maryland’s offense stagnantly stumbled to just a 51-point offensive output, the sixth fewest amount points scored in a game by the Terps since Turgeon has been head coach.

“We weren’t moving our bodies,” Turgeon said. “We were just standing watching a guy dribble.”

The player tasked with filling that role as the team’s primary creator with the ball in his hands has been Ayala, the junior guard who played his first two collegiate seasons next to Cowan for the Terps.

And although Ayala looked the part against Non-Power Five competition, he struggled to get to the rim or create separation consistently against Clemson. The same was true for Ayala’s backcourt mate in Aaron Wiggins, who shot 2-of-10 from the floor with four turnovers to finish with a game-low -25 plus/minus.

Turgeon eventually elected to turn to his bench guards for a spark, relying on freshman Aquan Smart and senior Reese Mona for an extended stretch in the second half. And the freshman and senior duo actually managed to make an impact in the time they shared the backcourt, keeping pace with the Tigers on both ends of the floor.

Mona finished with a team-high four assists, with he and Smart being just two of three Terps with a positive plus/minus.

“Once Reese got in there, Reese moved the ball for us,” Turgeon said. “Once we started moving the ball, we were much harder to guard.”

We expected to learn a lot about this year’s Maryland team against its first Power 5 opponent, but even the team couldn’t have expected to have this many of its flaws exposed before Big Ten play has even begun. Conference play is right on the horizon as well with No. 21 Rutgers visiting Xfinity Center this coming Monday, leaving Turgeon and the Terps just four days to sort out its offensive issues.

“The guys will respond,” Turgeon said. “We’ll coach them better and hopefully we’ll start to play better as soon as Monday because we’re gonna need to as we start league play.”