There is no such thing as a must win on the road in January, but Monday night's loss to N.C. State in Raleigh was close to it for Maryland. With potential All-American T.J. Warren ruled out minutes before the tip, the Terps had a golden opportunity to shake their road woes and move to 4-2 in the ACC before returning to College Park where they will host Pitt and Miami over the next week.
Instead, the Terps crumbled in the second half against the Wolfpack, falling to 1-4 on the road and 4-6 away from the Comcast Center, where they host a Panthers team on Saturday that dismantled them in Pittsburgh just over two weeks ago. Mark Turgeon and company have a lot of work to do this week before they can conquer a team the caliber of No. 20 Pitt. After another look at Monday's tape, let's examine how things went south for the Terrapins in Raleigh:
What was the plan on offense?
Maryland went over five minutes before posting its first points of the night, and the contents of that futile stretch was emblematic of the team's issues on offense throughout the first half. The Terps have preached the importance of an inside-out game throughout the season, and on Monday they made a point to dump the ball into the post early and often. Unfortunately, their bigs couldn't make the Wolfpack pay around the rim, and the ball rarely came back out to the perimeter after it entered the paint.
The Terps opened 0 for 10. They moved the ball effectively around the perimeter in the early going, utilizing screens on and off the ball as well as penetration to open up passing lanes into the post. Shaquille Cleare missed two easy looks in the paint and couldn't handle a nice dish from Seth Allen that should have resulted in a dunk. Evan Smotrycz and Charles Mitchell both couldn't convert under-the-rim looks before Mitchell finally got the Terps on the board with a put back. Later in the half, a Jake Layman feed to a wide open Mitchell resulted in a charge rather than an easy two.
Mitchell was incredibly active and wreaked havoc on the offensive glass, but he still finished the game 4 for 11 and it showed on tape. Maryland dumped the ball inside repeatedly in the first half, in a way neglecting their skill players. Mitchell, Cleare, Damonte Dodd and Jonathan Graham took 12 first half shots while Allen, Layman and Dez Wells put up only 15
seemingly by design. That sizeable foursome went 6 for 12, but also accounted for four turnovers and zero assists, as all three of the Terps first half treys came via penetration or the fast break.
This all isn't to downplay the performances of Mitchell and Dodd, who both impressed on Monday. It just seems peculiar that the team's game plan centered on the weakest part of their offense. The looks were there; the Terps just didn't have the talent to capitalize. Snatching 22 offensive rebounds in a game is a coup, put turning them into a mere 16 points is a tragedy. The Terps finished the half up nine, but realistically could have demoralized the Wolfpack had they showed up on O.
What happened in the second half?
The Terps were bad offensively in the first half (33.3 percent from the field). They were worse in the second (29.7 percent). They opened the half with a feed inside and a finish from Cleare, exactly what they couldn't accomplish early on. Mitchell got the ball on the block three times in the first eight minutes, resulting in two inside-out generated open looks from three (one make) and one point blank miss. From there, the Terps seemed to abandon an inside game that was mediocre in the first half but still good enough to keep the undermanned Wolfpack at bay.
As State stormed back via a scorching Ralston Turner, Maryland resorted to old faithful: one-on-one basketball featuring Dez Wells. Wells shot one for seven in the second half. He was able to penetrate, which he did outside of the flow of the offense, but he couldn't finish near the rim among the trees of the Wolfpack. When Turner began to sizzle on the other end, Allen, Wells and Nick Faust tried to match him with several ill-advised attempts from deep. The Terps preferred the three-point shot to the inside game in the second half but, with the exception of Smotrycz, opted for contested looks rather than working for open ones.
At times, penetration seemed to be a part of the game plan for Maryland. However, Wolfpack help-side defenders, not worried about potential dishes to Terps bigs, were able to force tough looks for Maryland penetrators. Although it did result in a bevy of offensive boards for Maryland, with Mitchell grabbing nine on his own. The Terps just couldn't manage to turn those opportunities into enough points.
How did Jake Layman disappear on offense again?
Layman simply has to figure out a way to get more good looks at the basket, and he has to capitalize early once he gets them. The sophomore missed an open three on the third possession and didn't shoot again, outside of a tip-in attempt, until 12 minutes into the game. Layman utilized a pump fake and made a wide open 18 footer - something that needs to become more common - but then disappeared until knocking down the buzzer beater before half. The penetration and kick out by Wells to Layman was simple enough to wonder why it doesn't happen more often.
Turgeon ran a play for Layman on the team's second possession after halftime, but he rushed the jumper and came up short. Again, Layman was invisible for the next 10 minutes until Smotrycz found him for an incredibly wide-open attempt from beyond the arc, which he promptly air-balled. He finished with five points on 2 of 8 shooting, and again failed to impose his will on the game, positively or negatively. Confidence is an issue for the struggling sophomore.
Who is Ralston Turner?
Turner became the most recent beneficiary of Maryland's sieve on Monday night. With Warren ruled out minutes before the game, the Wolfpack looked like a team that didn't know who should have the ball in the first half. Turner abused Layman in the opening minutes, but Turgeon quickly switched the assignment to a Wells/Faust combination and the LSU transfer wasn't heard from again until the second half.
The Wolfpack shot a dreadful 22 percent before halftime and the Terps certainly deserve some credit for that. They contested most attempts and allowed some guys looks they were comfortable with, at one point forcing 12 straight misses. N.C. State's screen-based offense got them some open shots in the process, but they didn't have the personnel to bury them. That would change. The Wolfpack stayed in the game at the charity stripe, taking advantage of 11 first half fouls from the Terps which enabled them to convert 8 of 10 free throws.
The second half was a disaster on defense for Maryland. Kudos to Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried, who realized his team couldn't win without Turner and responded by running the junior guard around what seemed like 10 screens per play to generate open looks. It took a half for Turner to realize that the Terps would not switch on screens, but once he did he got open looks at will. Turner missed consecutive open threes to start the second half, one because Wells couldn't get around a screen and another because he got caught helping in the paint.
At that point, Turner was 0 for 7 from three. Minutes later, Faust flew by him after a head fake and Turner drained his first triple of the night on his third consecutive wide-open look. Then all hell broke loose. Turner ran off two or three screens per possession, popping back to create separation when Wells or Faust took a shortcut. He drilled two threes before missing one badly. He then hit an impossible 18-footer off an inbounds pass with Wells draped all over him. At that point, the Terps had allowed the Wolfpack's lone shooter to gain confidence.
Maryland still only trailed by one when Turner took the ball at the top of the key with just under five minutes left. He dribbled around a ball screen that Wells couldn't fight through. Smotrycz didn't show and Turner drained his fourth triple of the half. Turner would soon thereafter provide the dagger, as Wells lost him in the midst of a full court press, and he hit number five to put State up seven.
So what was the verdict on defense?
During a second half timeout, ESPN cut into a clip of a Wolfpack practice over the weekend that showed Gottfried explaining to his players that the Terps simply will not switch on screens. It was clear from the tip that Turner was the only guy who could connect from deep for N.C. State (no one else made a three), yet he still killed Maryland. ESPN also highlighted a second half possession of Maryland's that showed a Wolfpack defender pop off his man, who was setting a screen, to prevent a wide open Smotrycz look from three. With Maryland ranking north of 300 in defending the three, it might be time to reevaluate the logic.
Another observation from Monday: it was hard for Turgeon to hide Layman on defense. The sophomore occasionally alters a shot here or there, but Turner toyed with him early, Desmond Lee blew by him for an easy and critical and-one in the second half and point guard Anthony Barber ran circles around him late. When he isn't contributing on the offensive end, he becomes a liability on defense.
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