Maryland’s work-in-progress team took the floor Sunday night in a game that felt important because of a big, energized crowd that came not only for the Terps, but to see President Obama and his family seated behind the visitors’ bench.
If the Terps were going to make errors -- and they made plenty -- it was going to come in front of the world’s most famous basketball fan and an announced crowd of 14,776.
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Maryland did not seem quite ready for the occasion. The Terps played sloppy defense and missed key foul shots in an 90-83 loss to Oregon State that dropped them to 1-2.
Everyone else seemed to be looking at the casually-dressed Obama, his wife Michelle and their two children. But Mark Turgeon never saw the president and his family. The perfectionist Maryland coach said he was too preoccupied with his team’s struggles to glance in their direction.
“To be quite honest with you, I didn’t see him, didn’t even look for him,” Turgeon said. “I think it is cool that he was here. I think it brought out a bigger crowd. That’s really the most disappointing thing to me is we had our student section come out and they were ready to cheer. It’s hard to yell and cheer when you can’t get stops.”
Led by guard Roberto Nelson (31 points) and forward Devon Collier (29 points), Oregon State took a 12-point lead in the second half.
Maryland cut the deficit to 65-63 on a 3-pointer by Jake Layman with 9:11 left.
“We cut it to two and [Maryland point guard] Roddy [Peters] got the steal, and I thought it was a foul on them, grabbing his uniform. That was a big play,” Turgeon said. “But then they hit the shot in the corner.”
That shot -- a 3-pointer by Victor Robbins -- pushed Oregon State’s lead to 68-63 and the Terps never again got within two points.
Maryland was within three at 82-79 after Dez Wells (23 points) converted two free throws with 1:13 left. But, after Oregon State (2-1) ran the shot clock down, Nelson hit a jump shot with 29 seconds left to extend the lead.
“Nelson just kept getting to the rim and Collier was a beast,” Turgeon said.
Wells and Maryland forward Evan Smotrycz both picked up their fourth fouls in the second half. Maryland forward Charles Mitchell also had four fouls.
The noisy crowd made it feel like a midseason Atlantic Coast Conference game against a rival.
“I hope it’s like that every game, but it probably won’t be if we keep playing the way we’re playing,” Smotrycz said.
The Terps shot 15 of 24 (62.5 percent) from the foul line and 42.3 percent from the field. Maryland's 30-game winning streak at Comcast Center against nonconference opponents was snapped.
“It’s my leadership,” Wells said. “I take responsibility. I wasn’t too good tonight at the beginning of each half.”
If Obama claims a favorite college basketball team, it must surely be Oregon State. The Beavers are coached by former Princeton star Craig Robinson, the brother of Michelle Obama.
Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson chatted with the president, but logistics prevented Terps players from meeting him.
Nelson, a senior who entered Sunday averaging 30 points per game, has been to the White House enough that he says the president knows him by name. The Beavers spent last Thanksgiving volunteering at a local food bank and dining with the president and first lady.
Nelson was often guarded by Maryland’s Nick Faust, who usually is assigned to the opponents’ toughest backcourt player.
“I rely as a coach on us being good defensively,” Turgeon said. “Almost all my teams I can remember can guard. And this one right now is not doing a very good job of it."
Nelson had 16 points in a first half that ended in a 38-38 tie.
As the halftime buzzer sounded, Wells heaved in a shot from midway between the 3-point line and halfcourt. Like other fans, Obama gazed up at the scoreboard for a replay to assess whether the shot was released on time.
After a lengthy review, the basket was taken away and the score remained tied.