Inefficient offense, prolonged scoring droughts burn Maryland basketball in second consecutive loss

Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

NEWARK, N.J. — Maryland (10-2, 1-1 Big Ten) entered Thursday night’s contest with over a week of preparation, eagerly looking to improve their offensive efficiency and execution. Neither of those things came to fruition in front of a capacity crowd at the Prudential Center, as Seton Hall (7-4) buried Maryland 52-48, marking the Terps’ second consecutive loss against an unranked opponent.

Maryland’s defense was strong as advertised, but the offense let it down on a night where Seton Hall was without its two top scorers: guard Myles Powell and forward Sandro Mamukelashvili.

“We’re not playing with a lot of confidence right now, and I’ve got to figure out a way to give our guys confidence,” head coach Mark Turgeon lamented. “We don’t even look like the same team we were three weeks ago.”

Lacking offensive flow throughout, the Terps shot a putrid 27% from the field, while also committing 17 turnovers. Although Maryland didn’t execute well offensively, some of its struggles can be attributed to Seton Hall’s quick guards and length down low. The Pirates finished with 15 blocks, the highest of any team against Maryland in the Turgeon era. 12 of those 15 blocks came from the 7-foot-2 center tandem of Romaro Gill and Ike Obiagu. Gill dominated with five blocks in the first half, while Obiagu added five of his own in the second.

“We’ve got to be smarter, when they’re in there getting blocks. We’re not able to finish around them,” guard Aaron Wiggins said. “We just gotta be smarter with drawing fouls or kicking out.”

Entering Thursday’s game, Maryland’s shooting struggles were an area of concern. However, those concerns only intensified. 

With 12:16 remaining in the first half, senior Anthony Cowan Jr. knocked down a three cutting the Seton Hall lead to 10-7. It was the start of an awful cold spell for the Terps.

Indeed, Cowan’s three marked the last points Maryland scored until nearly nine minutes later, when Jalen Smith’s free throw ended the drought. During that nine-minute stretch, the Terps had four shots blocked and also turned the ball over seven times. The stretch was a microcosm of the Terps struggles all night and highlighted the Pirates quick defense rotations — while epitomizing Maryland’s offensive stagnation. 

“We didn’t execute very well,” Turgeon said postgame. “We’ve got to get better. “We’ve got to get better in a lot of things.”

Converting defense into offense, Seton Hall executed a 10-0 run during the nine-minute stretch to take a double-digit lead. Shortly after Jalen Smith ended the drought, guard Anthony Nelson drilled a three for the Pirates — putting them on top 23-8 with 3:34 remaining in the first half. Just over a minute later, guard Eric Ayala knocked down a three from the corner giving Maryland their first field goal in over ten minutes. Exchanging field goals in the final two minutes, the Pirates led 27-18 at the break.

On the opening possession of the second half, Maryland executed arguably their best offensive turn yet, leading to an easy lay-up for Jalen Smith. After Smith couldn’t complete the three-point play, the Pirates bounced right back with a 5-0 run that extended the lead to 34-20.

Both teams continued to struggle offensively as the second half progressed, but senior guard Quincy McKnight stepped up for the final seven minutes of the game. McKnight was the catalyst for the Pirates all-night long, finishing with 17 points, six assists and eight rebounds. With Maryland still hanging around, trailing 38-31 with 6:42 remaining, McKnight finished a tough three-point play to put the Pirates back on top by ten.

A few minutes later, Maryland went on another 5-0 run to cut the score to 43-36, after a Cowan three from the right wing. Less than a minute later, McKnight converted on another pivotal three-point play once again — good for another 10-point Pirates lead. 

Down the stretch, Maryland continued to chip away at the lead, attacking the basket and several fouls. Two Cowan foul shots brought the Terps to within five. In a two possession game, the Terps suddenly had a chance. After a Seton Hall turnover, freshman Donta Scott scored his only basket of the game, bringing the score to 49-46. Needing a big shot with 22 seconds remaining, Cowan rose up for a deep three, which rimmed out and McKnight grabbed the rebound.

McKnight’s rebound and two free throws in the final seconds put the finishing touches on a frustrating loss for Maryland against a severely depleted Seton Hall team.

“We gotta realize that it’s not easy to win in college basketball no matter the circumstances,” Cowan said. “We didn’t execute; we didn’t do what we’re supposed to do.”