Porous first-half offense dooms Maryland men’s basketball in its first loss of the season at Clemson

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Sophomore Hakim Hart looked to feed sophomore Chol Marial inside for an easy finish. Instead, Marial was smothered by three Clemson defenders and was stripped, one of Maryland’s 14 total turnovers and 10 committed in the first half. Off of the turnover, guard Alex Hemenway knocked down a three to extend Clemson’s lead to 13-4.

That sequence encapsulated Maryland’s (4-1) offensive woes and Clemson’s (4-0) timely perimeter shooting as the Tigers used a dominant first-half performance en route to a 67-51 victory. Maryland’s woes offensively in the first-half doomed its hopes of a comeback, as the Terps had ten turnovers and just six made field goals at the break.

“We missed layups early, we missed free throws early and turned the ball over,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We were about just as selfish as any of my teams have ever played.” 

Last season, Maryland became all too familiar with slow starts, as it notoriously struggled shooting the ball in the opening five minutes. However, struggles shooting in the early stages of games represented uncharted territory for this year’s Maryland team, as the Terps entered Wednesday’s contest as one of the best shooting teams in the country. 

In the opening four minutes, the Terps shot 1-6 from the field as they struggled with Clemson’s length on the perimeter and stout defense. Those shooting struggles continued as the first half progressed, and the Tigers continued to build on their lead. 

“[Clemson] denied passing lanes and it made it really tough to score,” senior Darryl Morsell said. “This was the first team we played this year that denied all of the passes, I think that contributed to us not getting off to a great start.”

While Maryland struggled to score early, Clemson knocked down a trio of threes en route to a 13-4 lead at the u-12 media timeout. The ensuing possession, Jairus Hamilton finished a tough layup inside, which cut Maryland’s deficit to 13-6 at the 11:48 mark of the first half.

However, the Tigers responded with a 12-1 run over the next 3:29 keyed by the trio of Aamir Simms, Nick Honor and Hemenway. Each of them buried their second threes of the night, making Maryland pay for not rotating fast enough defensively. 18 of Clemson’s 38 first-half points came from behind the arc, as the Tigers found success on the perimeter.

“We couldn’t get our shot going in the first half, the ball just wasn’t bouncing our way,” guard Eric Ayala said. “It affected us on the defensive end, just not having the energy both [on offense and defense]”

Leading 25-7 with 8:17 remaining in the first half, Clemson’s defensive intensity maintained and the Tigers extended their lead down the stretch. Guard John Newman III and Simms continued to key the Tigers offense finding success both attacking the paint and on the perimeter. 

As Simms knocked down his final basket of the first half with 1:12 remaining, Maryland entered the half trailing 38-15, their worst offensive half of the year by a substantial margin. Those struggles can be attributed both to Clemson’s defense, but also the Terps inability to protect and share the ball.

“We weren’t moving the ball, we weren’t moving our bodies,” Turgeon said. “We were just standing and watching the guy dribble. It’s not a hard game, you’ve got to change sides with [the ball and we didn’t.”

The opening five minutes of the second half was a back-and-forth affair, as the Terps slowly attempted to cut into the large deficit. In the second half, Donta Scott was the catalyst for Maryland’s offensive resurgence as he knocked down a pair of threes, which cut Clemson’s lead to 46-29 with 12:46 remaining. 

Maryland slowly continued to trim the lead due to the success of their press disrupting Clemson’s offense. Guard Reese Mona came off the bench and provided great on-ball pressure, which made it difficult for the Tigers to navigate the press and forced them to settle for shots later in the shot clock.

Building on the success of the defense, with 8:13 remaining Galin Smith executed a tough layup inside, which cut the deficit to 12. However, less than a minute later, Aaron Wiggins looked for Smith inside and the pass went just past his outstretched arms.

Guard Al-Amir Dawes picked up the loose ball and buried a transition three, which he followed up with another transition layup soon after. Those two shots extended Clemson’s lead to 17 and seemingly took away Maryland’s surging momentum. 

Shortly after, Wiggins made his first three of the night to cut the deficit to 14. However, once again Dawes and Honor bounced back with consecutive threes pushing the lead to 20 with 4:17 remaining– sinking the Terps’ hopes of a second-half comeback.

Maryland will now look to put Wednesday’s loss in the past as it transitions to conference play hosting No. 21 Rutgers on Dec. 14.

“We play Rutgers next, we’ve got to respond,” Morsell said. “We’ll go back, look at the film, see what we can improve on. Big Ten play coming up we’ve definitely  got to get ready for that and I think this game opened our eyes to it.”

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