Turgeon: “We couldn’t score” — Three Takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball loss to Virginia Tech

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Maryland men’s basketball fell to 5-3 on Wednesday, suffering a 62-58 loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies. After the game, head coach Mark Turgeon described the Terps’ biggest issue. 

“We couldn’t score,” Turgeon said.

Maryland started the game fast, with Qudus Wahab finally getting back to his normal productive self. The big-man had 14 first half points. 

However, the script flipped in the second half. With Wahab in foul trouble and only scoring 4 points in the final stanza, Maryland struggled to score the basketball. Meanwhile, the Hokies ripped off a stretch of eight straight field goals without a miss, to take the lead late in the game. 

With Virginia Tech up by two late, a Virginia Tech layup was tipped by a Maryland player, right into the basket. Maryland had a good look to tie the game, but it eventually missed. 

Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell struggled mightily 

Both Ayala and Russell had miserable nights on Wednesday. Ayala scored just two points on 1-9 shooting, and Russell ended with eight points on 2-8 shooting. That just isn’t nearly enough production from Maryland’s starting backcourt. The duo combined for five assists and five turnovers, so even when it wasn’t working for them, they failed to create for their teammates. 

Both players repeatedly proved willing to take extremely tough shots, sometimes — but not always — as a result of the shot clock. Russell took a number of stepback threes, a shot that is terribly inefficient in college basketball. It also happens to be a terribly poor shot selection for Russell, who’s made less than 30% of his threes in his career. 

Even when he was driving to the basket, he looked out of control at times. On one play in the second half, he attempted a crazy layup with his back almost completely turned to the basket, which predictably clanked off the rim. 

Meanwhile, Ayala was forced into a number of tough fadeaways. He hit a nice one in the first half, but couldn’t get another one to go. 

“They did a really good job of guarding him,” Turgeon said. “He can usually get downhill, and (tonight) he couldn’t get downhill. He couldn’t get by his guy, couldn’t spin off his guy, and then they could come help, and he was getting frustrated.” 

When he struggled to get to the basket however, Ayala opted for some really difficult shots from way out, including one from well beyond the three point line. 

“Eric shot from 28 feet, that’s like a turnover,” said Turgeon. 

Russell and Ayala are still the team’s leading scorers on the season, but they will need to be better, and more efficient, going forward. 

Maryland continues to have a turnover problem

As a team, Maryland had just six assists — just two came in the first half — and 15 turnovers. That simply is not good enough to win at this level. 

The assists point to a bigger problem for the Terps: they rarely get easy shots out of their half court sets, and they have no real catch and shoot threats. 

They have some guys who are decent shooters, but way too many of their shots, nearly all, come off the dribble. This makes the Terps half court sets difficult, because there is never a threat of someone sprinting off a screen to knock down a shot, or cutting to the basket for an easy layup. 

Turgeon commented on this after the game, saying that they did not screen very well in the half-court, which made it more difficult to get open looks. 

Turgeon also did not like the turnovers on the fast break. 

“So we had 15 turnovers against a team that doesn’t pressure,” Turgeon said. “Really good defensive team, extremely well coached, but they don’t pressure. We had three on the break in the second half … we didn’t make great decisions all the time.” 

One person was not to blame for the turnovers. Ayala had three, Russell had two, Donta Scott had two, Wahab had two, and Hakim Hart had three. That is every member of the starting five committing two or more turnovers, while none of them had more than three assists. 

Something in the half-court has to change, or the team has to start flying up the floor and living with the turnovers. One way or another, they need to find some easier buckets. 

Someone, anyone, has to start hitting some three pointers

The biggest single difference in this game was three-point shooting. Virginia Tech shot 9-20 (45%), and Maryland shot 1-13 (7.7%). At the college level, not every team has to shoot the lights out, but it can’t be a percentage in the single digits. 

At the end of the game, Maryland had a chance to draw up a play for a tying bucket. They went to Hart from deep early in the shot clock, who had an open look that missed. It was a low-percentage look, but Turgeon suggested that they didn’t have a better option to go to. 

“Well, you know, we’re not making a lot of shots,” he said. “Hakim made five or six down in the Bahamas. They’re not going to let Eric (Ayala) get a shot. So he was wide open.”

Hart admitted that he might have been able to take the ball to the basket, but thought he was open for the shot. He also commented on the team’s struggles from deep.

“We just going to keep continuing to take our open looks, and we’re just going to make them,” Hart said. “You always try to stay positive and whoever is open just continue to take that shot,” 

Maryland is now shooting 26.8% on the season, which ranks them number 334 in all of college basketball in that statistic, according to teamrankings.com. Only 358 teams are eligible, making Maryland one of the worst shooting teams in the nation. 

In Turgeon’s defense, Hart is leading the team in three point percentage, but everyone is struggling. On the season, Hart is shooting 33%, followed by Ayala (29%), Scott (27%), Ian Martinez (21%) and Russell (20%). Simon Wright and Pavlo Dziuba both have scored one three pointer on the season, so technically are shooting better percentages, but on extremely low volume. 

Maryland sees their next action Sunday when they open their Big Ten schedule at home against Northwestern.