Terps Better But Not Good Enough
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Dez Wells sat with phalanx of microphones and reporters' notepads in his face and went over a familar post mortem on Maryland's basketball team following Saturday's 83-79 loss to 20th-ranked Pittsburgh at the Comcast Center.
The junior swingman lamented consistency on offense and lack of communication on defense. He said some of the problems are things the young Terrapins have to address individually but he emphasized that it's not all gloom and doom.
"I do feel like we've gotten a lot better," he said. "I do agree that we played a lot harder tonight and we played like our backs were against the wall. And that's the way we should play every night. That's what I expect from my team every night because that's how I expect to play every night."
But that much-improved effort wasn't good enough, not against a Pittsburgh squad Turgeon called a "Top Five" team. And not on a night when the Panthers shot 47 free throws and hit 32, most of the makes coming as they built a 13-point lead before a furious Terrapin rally.
"We did a lot of things well, we executed better, we shared the ball better," said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. "But we gave up too many lay-ups and we fouled too much. I know we fouled a lot, especially late but 47 is a lot of free throws. I've been doing this a long time. I've been a coach and an assistant coach about 26 years and I'm telling you that is one of the best teams I've ever seen."
And the Panthers (18-2, 6-1) are playing like it, having won eight of their last nine heading into Monday's huge home showdown against Duke. Maryland, meanwhile must regroup and ready for Miami's visit Wednesday. The Terrapins (11-9, 3-4), meanwhile, have dropped four of their last five and missed another opportunity to make an RPI statement to help their postseason hopes.
Maryland fell to 1-6 against RPI Top 50 teams with the setback but Turgeon and the troops were surprisingly upbeat, knowing they had regrouped from the second half debacle at NC State.
"We played really hard tonight," said Jake Layman. "In some games when we face adversity we let it slip away. But tonight we faced a lot of adversity with them hitting some tough shots, and we just kept fighting. The end result wasn't what we wanted but we did play hard."
Hitting most of those "tough shots" was the purview of Pittsburgh's Lamar Patterson, who may be making a run at ACC Player of the Year in the Panthers' first season in the league. Patterson poured in 28 points from a variety of angles and degree of difficulties, and was a ringleader at the free throw line, hitting 12-of-14 there.
"Unbelievable," said Layman of Patterson.
"(Patterson) took what was there and I think we rode him a little too much in the second half," said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. "We've got a lot of different options but he's a good guy to go to too much, I guess."
Dixon said he was particularly pleased Pittsburgh didn't settle for jump shots, attacking Maryland's defense all night, something he knew the Panthers would have to do against a hungry Terps team and a hostile crowd.
Big 6-9 Talib Zanna had 16 points, hit 8-of-14 at the line and tied Patterson for high-rebound honors with seven. The Panthers, eighth in the nation in rebounding with over nine per game more than their foes, were right on that number with a 37-28 edge against the Terrapins.
Maryland also had 17 turnovers and while the shot selection was better, the Terrapins couldn't connect enough to keep pace with a deadly-efficient Panthers' attack. The Terps shot 48.1 percent (26-of-54) but yielded 51 percent shooting (25-of-49) to Pitt. The big difference was at the line where the Panthers hit 32 – more makes than the Terrapins had attempts (30), though the Terps canned 23 (76.7 percent).
Ironically it was some Pittsburgh inefficiency at the line late that allowed the Terrapins to make things interesting. Maryland had just closed a Pittsburgh 13-point lead down to seven midway through the second half. And that's when Patterson again announced his presence with authority. The 6-5 senior got inside Maryland's tough 1-3-1 zone and hit a driving, leaning shot that hung on the rim and crawled in to blunt the Terps' momentum.
Nick Faust missed a three the next time down and Patterson got to the line, hitting one of two. Seth Allen missed an ill-advised three and Cameron Wright got a lay-up for Pitt and the lead was back to 67-55 with 8:40 left.
"Our ball-screen defense was as good as it should have been," said Wells, who led Maryland with 19 points. "And that comes back to communicating. We need to do a lot better job of talking and know situations like the shot clock or anticipating what will happen. You can't teach those things. Those are instincts we have to get better at."
"We just didn't do our jobs, guys weren't in the right spots," said Turgeon. "Guys just have to do their jobs better."
Battling From Behind
Back down 12, the Terps still weren't done. Faust, on his way to 13 points, hit two free throws, and then got an acrobatic lay-in from Allen, who had six assists to go with eight points. It was back to 67-59 at 7:48, and the crowd of 17,202, was back into it. The Terrapins seemed to get a stop as Charles Mitchell came away with a rebound as the shot clock expired on the Panthers' possession but Mitchell was whistled for a foul, his fifth with 7:09 remaining.
Ironically he finished with seven points and no rebounds in 15 minutes. Smotrycz, also plagued with fouls, had four points and a team-high seven rebounds. Layman was solid with 18 points (7-of-12 from the field) to go with five rebounds and three steals but like Smotrycz, Allen and Shaquille Cleare (two points, four rebs), he finished with four fouls.
Zanna hit one of two at the line to make it 68-59. Wells got one of two at the offensive end but that man – Patterson – scored an athletic lay-up in traffic at the end of a press to push the lead back to 70-60.
Smotrycz hit two free throws after a flagrant foul but then he threw the ball away trying to force a pass inside to Wells in the paint. A Layman steal and dunk made it 72-64 with 4:19, to play but Maryland couldn't get closer than eight the next few minutes.
Another Wells three-point play made it 78-71 with 2:42 to play, and then his steal and lay-up made it 79-74 at 1:19. Josh Newkirk missed two free throws but Zanna chased down the rebound in the corner and then hit one of two free throws.
The Panthers obliged by finally missing nine of final 14 free throws to open the door. Twice the Terrapins came within five but wouldn't get any closer until Smotrycz dropped in a three-pointer with 5.4 seconds to put the final points on the board.
"We just made so many breakdowns defensively," lamented Turgeon. "We're better in practice defensively than we were a month ago. It was really just one play, the double ball screen that our big guys couldn't get hold of. We just couldn't figure it out. They make the extra pass, they don't settle. They finish through contact."
The Panthers pushed their lead to double digits in the opening minutes of the second half, scoring 11 of the first 17 points. James Robinson, who had 13 points, scored off a turnover and then Patterson scored easily on a drive to make it 53-43 with 15:41 to play.
Wells got a three-point play at the other end but the Terrapins just weren't able to consistently stop Pittsburgh. Five of the Panthers' first six field goals in the second half were lay-ups. When Jones and Robinson got back-to-back lay-ins, the lead went to 59-47 at 13:19, and Turgeon signaled timeout.
Layman got a dunk off a nice set piece but the Terrapins, now with mounting foul trouble, still couldn't get stops. Turgeon tried his 1-3-1 with the lanky Layman out high after Patterson's free throws made it 62-49 at 11:46.
Faust hit a three to whittle the lead back to 10, and then out of that zone, Layman got a steal and a three-point play in transition to make it 62-55 with 10:17 to play.
"I think when we get down sometimes we do panic and some guys do try to take the game over and win it themselves," said Layman. "In practice we really focused on sharing the ball, getting the right shots on offense and not breaking plays off."
Pittsburgh had a 42-37 halftime edge behind Patterson's offense, 13 points, including 7-of-8 shooting at the line.
Pittsburgh had erased Maryland's one-point lead with a devastating 9-0 run, fueled by the Terrapins' familiar issues – turnovers and shooting too quickly. Young scored on a reverse lay-up to put Pitt up 29-28 at 5:05. After a steal, Robinson scored on the break and then after a quick Wells' miss, Patterson got a bucket on the break. Layman missed a three and Wright got and old-fashioned three-point play at the other end, and suddenly it was 36-28.
The lead would balloon to nine at 38-29 when Jamel Artis hit two free throws, something the Panthers did with regularity in the first half, going 16-of-17 at the line to the chagrin of the Comcast crowd. They also weren't pleased with four fouls on the Terrapins for illegal screens in the first half.
The Terps wouldn't get closer than three the rest of the half, Mitchell scoring inside from Allen, and Faust hitting two free throws. Patterson answered with a drive but Allen scored on a drive of his own and then Layman stole a pass and fed Faust for a lob dunk that made it 40-37 at 1:06 and brought the crowd to it's feet.
Earlier, after Smotrycz had hit a three for a 16-12 lead, the Panthers rattled off the next eight points, and when Patterson hit two free throws at 8:26, the Panthers had their first lead at 18-16. A Faust jumper at 6:55 ended a three-minute scoring drought and got Maryland within 20-18. But Allen was whistled for fouling Patterson shooting a three right in front of a livid Turgeon, who claimed Patterson had leg-whipped Allen. Patterson hit all three free throws.
When Robinson added two more free throws – the Panthers were 10-of-10 at the line at that point to Maryland's 0-for-2 – the Panthers led 25-20.
"They shot way too many free throws but that goes back to our defense," said Wells. "And knowing situations like fouling when the shot clock is going down, that's stuff that a mature team does and that's not us right now."
Layman scored on a drive, and then Allen made a big defensive play, stealing a pass and getting intentionally fouled by Robinson to prevent an easy bucket. Allen canned both freebies and then Wells was fouled on the ensuing possession and added two more to give Maryland a 28-27 lead at 5:20.
"I thought (Allen's) decision making was much better tonight," said Turgeon. "He's getting close to 100 percent. We felt like he could exploit his matchup off the dribble pretty well and he did that."
The game couldn't have started much better for Maryland. Layman hit a jumper on the first possession, and Smotrycz hit an open baseline shot the next time. When Wells picked off a pass and dunked, it was 6-2, and a Layman three gave Maryland a seven-point lead at 17:36. The Terrapins hit five of their first seven shots.
But the Panthers clawed back with a 10-4 run that allowed them to close to 13-12 at 11:54, when Zanna dunked in a stickback. That basket was triggered by a rushed jumper from Wells early in the shot clock, just the kind of play Maryland had emphasized not making leading up to this game.
Roddy Peters (one assist, one rebound in five minutes) shot an air ball, Maryland struggling as Pitt went zone. The Terrapins went nearly four minutes without a basket before Peters broke through the defense and fed Wells for an uncontested lay-in.
Jonathan Graham had two points and a rebound in 15 minutes, and Damonte Dodd, despite insistence this week from Turgeon that he would play, logged just three minutes and committed one of the illegal screen fouls, something the Terrapins cleaned up in the second half.
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