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December 21, 2013

Maryland defenseless against BU

Coming out of finals week, it looked like a trap game. With Christmas break only hours away, it smelled like a trap game. But the matchup with talented mid-major Boston University on Saturday was still one that the Terps had to have and they knew it.

Mark Turgeon issued a gag order on all things Christmas effective Saturday morning, but his strategy proved fruitless as the Terps looked disorganized on defense and horrendous at the free throw line, falling 83-77 to the Terriers at the Comcast Center. Maryland has now lost three of five since a late-November surge that had optimists thinking Turgeon's team was bound for the NCAA Tournament.

The Terps outshot (48.3 percent to 42.4), out-rebounded (42 boards to 34) and out-passed (15 assists to 10) Boston University, but they gave up too many open looks from three and failed to make the plays that counted when the game was on the line. The Terriers capitalized. BU drained 10 triples and scored 25 points off 17 Maryland turnovers to deal the Terps their fifth loss of the season.

"I'll be honest with you guys," said a visibly frustrated Turgeon. "I've been coaching a long time… and the ball is not bouncing our way."

In what seems to be becoming tradition, the Terps limped out of the gate on Saturday, needing a buzzer-beating layup from Roddy Peters to go into halftime down by 10. The Terriers made seven first half threes, using ball movement and penetration to disorient Maryland defenders, who left open BU shooters scattered around the arc. The Terps also had 11 turnovers before halftime.

It took Maryland only eight minutes to erase the double-digit deficit in the second half and they were even able to pull ahead on two occasions. But BU had an answer for everything Maryland threw at them once the game got close, and the Terps made it easy on them by going 10-for-18 from the free throw line in the second half.

"When the game was on the line 58-all we just didn't do what we had to do to win the game," Turgeon said. "If we could have gotten the lead, put a little pressure on them, it could have been a different outcome, but we couldn't do that."

The game played out in a strikingly similar fashion to several of Maryland's losses this season. Both Connecticut and George Washington were able to jump out to early leads against the Terps, who fought back in the second half but ran out of gas as the game approached its decisive minutes.

The style of play has been taxing on Turgeon's roster. Routinely down early, the third-year coach has been unable to build depth as he's been forced to keep his starters in longer than he'd prefer. Dez Wells and Jake Layman both played 36 minutes on Saturday, with Wells at one point begging to come out of the game.

"Part of the problem is I don't have depth," Turgeon said. "Guys know they're going to play through their mistakes."

"Dez was begging to come out one time and I couldn't take him out. I had to tell him, 'there's no one to go in for you.'"

Wells still managed 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Evan Smotrycz was also solid, busting out of a shooting slump to score 13 of his 15 points in the second half to go with 13 boards. But offense wasn't the problem.

"I thought we did a great job on offense, but they obviously scored in the 80s," Smotrycz said. "They got into the paint too much, ball screen defense probably wasn't that good."

Saturday's loss was the fourth in which Maryland has scored at least 75 points, including now two at home. The Terriers shot only 42.4 percent from the field, but it was the way they got their buckets that doomed Maryland. Twenty-five came off turnovers and 30 came from behind the arc. Easy baskets down the stretch, including a pair of uncontested layups by 5-foot-10 Maurice Watson Jr., were the type of disheartening statements that killed any momentum the Terps managed to build.

"We can't score 77 at home at lose," Turgeon lamented. "Maybe it's on the defensive end. We have to figure out if I can get a shotblocker in there, figure out if I can get our big guys to play better. We have no presence at the rim."

Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare combined for only seven points and seven rebounds down low, with neither player recording a block. While Jonathan Graham played 15 solid minutes, it was actually Wells,finishing with five swats, who was the only force in the paint defensively for Maryland.

"We make the same mistakes. We don't show on ball screens," said Turgeon, who then estimated that he's stressed certain defensive tactics to his players 250 times this year. "So ultimately, it's on me. I've got to figure out how to get through to them."

As he searches for answers, frustration has taken over for Turgeon and the Terps. There seem to be too many holes on his team right now for him to know which are the most important to plug. The only good news is he will have eight days to try to figure it out, as the Terps don't return to action until Dec. 29 when they host Tulsa.

"We are what we are," the coach said. "We're trying. I can't answer your question, because I'm trying to figure it out. Hopefully I can over the break."

It appears that Saturday's crippling loss couldn't have come at a better time.

"We get to go home over break and regroup a little bit and start fresh," Smotrycz added. "Nothing else we can do but keep working and try to get better."

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