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December 8, 2013

Terps drop heartbreaker to GW

Desperate for efficiency on offense, Mark Turgeon has been seeking the right lineup combinations all year. He employed his latest tweak on Sunday, plugging Varun Ram into his starting five for Nick Faust and expanding his normal rotation from eight to ten.

The results were mixed at best, as the Terps fell, 77-75, to George Washington at the BB&T Classic in Washington D.C. After limping out of the gate, Maryland used a 19-5 run to tie the game with 1:07 left on the clock, but GW's Maurice Creek hit a 20-foot jumper just before time expired to send the rowdy Colonial fans storming onto the Verizon Center court.

Faust was glued to Creek on the play but the junior slipped, giving the Indiana transfer just enough space to knock down the game winner. Creek had 25 on the night, but the Terps still didn't double him as the game's final seconds ticked away and he made them pay.

"We knew what they were going to do," Turgeon said. "I didn't do a very job. We should have ran at him and doubled him. I was trying to get Roddy [Peters] to do it, but he just doesn't understand yet. It was a big time shot by him."

The loss drops the Terps to 5-4 on the season and shrinks their series edge over George Washington in this tournament to 6-4 since its inception in 1995.

The Maryland offense was disjointed in the early going and couldn't get on track in time to overcome a 12-point halftime deficit. The Terps shot 30 percent from the field in the first half and were turnover-prone once again, with eight giveaways resulting in 10 George Washington points.

The defense turned up the heat late in the second half after Dez Wells fouled out, employing a full court press that helped them storm back. Wells, who finished with 16 points, was the only effective Terp on offense before his exit at the 6:09 mark. His teammates rallied without him, but GW was able to hit enough free throws down the stretch to hold on before Creek's heroics.

"We were devastated obviously," said Jake Layman, who was cold again early but still managed to total 13 points for the game. "We thought we had this one. If it went to overtime, we knew we had them. They had no idea what to do with our press."

Unable to buy a bucket from the perimeter, Maryland never turned to ball distribution to solve their offensive woes. The Terps had only two assists in the first half and finished the game with seven. They turned the ball over 18 times.

"Shots just weren't falling for us," said Layman, who agreed that the Terps tend to resort too much to one-on-one offense. "We need to be more aggressive off the ball, cutting and moving."

No Maryland player finished with more than three assists. Meanwhile, sophomore point guard Joe McDonald piled up 13 points, nine assists and eight boards for the Colonials, turning the ball over only twice. George Washington ultimately committed 19 turnovers, but a huge portion of them came in the game's final minutes as a result of the Maryland press.

The press was so effective that it's difficult to understand why Turgeon didn't utilize it earlier. Maryland's depth, length and athleticism enable them to give their opponents fits regardless of the strength of their point guard play.

"I don't want to have to rely on our press to get ourselves going," said Turgeon, who also blew up at the officials during Maryland's comeback and received a technical foul. "I don't want to have to go down 14 to get ourselves going or have the coach get a technical to get ourselves going."

The Terps were down 14 with just over five minutes to play. They used a pair of treys and a three-point play from freshman Roddy Peters to cut the lead to five. Peters had two key steals down the stretch. Charles Mitchell snatched his fourth offensive rebound of the night with just over a minute left, and deposited it into the basket to tie the game for the first time since the opening minutes.

Hoping to inject some life into his team, Turgeon gave Penn State transfer Jonathan Graham his first truly meaningful playing time of the season. Graham responded admirably, playing 15 minutes and collecting five points, five rebounds, three blocks and knocking down all three of his attempts from the charity stripe.

"It's part of who I am," Graham said about his energetic playing style. "It's part of my game. It's what I wanted to bring to this team from day one: energy and my heart, everything I have every minute I'm out there."

All season, Maryland has lacked the well-rounded play in the post that the junior gave them on Sunday. With Shaquille Cleare invisible on offense and Mitchell problematic on defense, Graham's effort and performance undoubtedly earned him consideration for more time on the court going forward.

"A huge lift," Layman said when asked about Graham. "He brought so much intensity. His rebounding. The and-one. He got us going tonight."

Maryland opens up their final season in the ACC on Thursday night when they take on Boston College. With the additions of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, the conference is even more loaded than usual this season. It's a good thing for the Terps, who will need to beat all the strong opponents they can after missing out on an opportunity today.


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