PITTSBURGH — Maryland figured that it was going to have to beat Pittsburgh Monday with the hot-shooting that carried the Terps to a 16-point win over Georgia Tech in Saturday’s ACC home opener.
The strategy worked early on at the Petersen Events Center, then it backfired as the Terps collapsed amid a second-half meltdown of bad shooting, sloppy ball handling and lazy defense in what became a 79-59 defeat before a sellout crowd of 12,508.
As junior forward Evan Smotrycz and sophomore guard Seth Allen cooled off, and the rest of the Terps never got going, the Panthers got hot. Senior forward Lamar Patterson and sophomore forward Durand Johnson led Pittsburgh (14-1, 2-0) to its 12th straight home victory.
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Patterson, who was presented a ceremonial ball before the game for recently going over 1,000 points, scored 19 points, but the bigger lift was provided by Johnson (Lake Clifton). Coming off the bench, Johnson finished with a career-high 17 for Pittsburgh.
“I thought Pittsburgh was terrific, they were deep, had a lot of guys makes shots for them, they executed well, they were tremendous on defense,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after his team’s most one-sided defeat this season.
“I thought we were really good for the first 18 minutes. In this, we played at a pretty high level for us. We just didn’t finish the half. We didn’t start the second half very well…I wasn’t particularly pleased with the way we finished the game defensively and offensively.”
Frustrated with his team’s lack of fight down the stretch, Turgeon called a timeout in the final minute, as a place known locally as “Oakland Zoo” for the neighborhood the school is located in and its rowdy, towel-waving, foot-stomping student section voiced its disapproval.
It might have been the first time Maryland stopped the Panthers in the second half.
Allen led Maryland (10-6, 2-1) with 18 points, the most he has scored since coming back after missing the first two months of the season with a broken left foot. Smotrycz finished with 14, but scored just one basket in 10 tries after hitting his first three shots – all of them 3-pointers.
Maryland’s three other scorers – junior guards Dez Wells and Nick Faust as well as junior forward Jake Layman – were essentially no-shows. Wells, who had come in averaging nearly 18 points on the road since coming to Maryland, finished with just five points.
Faust, who had averaged 16 points in his last three games, finished with just seven, while Layman struggled with his shot and scored three points. Trailing at halftime 36-30 after the Panthers closed the half on a Johnson-led 11-2 run.
When Patterson was asked after the game what sparked Pittsburgh’s run into halftime, he pointed to Johnson, sitting next to him on the podium in the press room.
“This man,” Patterson said.
Johnson had 10 points halftime, but said it was his team’s defense that made the difference. Johnson was coming off a game when he played just eight minutes and failed to score in a win at North Carolina State. He had been benched because of his lack of defense.
“We just play hard, [head coach Jamie] Dixon gets on a lot on the defensive end and that’s where it starts,” Johnson said. “We all buy into it. We all played hard, we made a run and we got it going…We turned it into a 20-point win.”
The Terps found themselves behind by only three, 43-40, after a pair of free throws by Allen. But Johnson buried a 3-pointer to start what became a 12-4 run that essentially ended the game for the Terps and turned into a layup and 3-point shooting drill for Pittsburgh.
“You’ve got to give them credit, they really hit like every jump shot in the second half,” Allen said. “We couldn’t get together a set of stops. We were scoring [early in the second half] but we couldn’t stop them.”
Said Smotrycz, “Defensively, we could communicate better, play a little harder, be able to get through screens, be able to finish possessions, we fouled a lot late in the clock.”
The Panthers shot the ball better (29 of 55, six of 10 on 3-pointers) than the Terps (20 of 56, 8 of 25) didn’t turn the ball over much (seven turnovers to 13 for Maryland) and used superior strength to push Maryland around. particularly in the second half.
At one point as the Panthers broke open the game, 6-8, 245-pound freshman Michael Young backed in on the 6-9, 230-pound Smotrycz, knocking the Maryland forward back a step or two. But he wasn’t alone, as Pittsburgh's tough defense made it difficult for Layman (1 of 7), Faust (2 of 7) and Wells (2 of 6) to get easy shots.
“It’s hard to drive on them,” Turgeon said. “You drive you’re going to get bumped, they’re going to reach in, a lot of times they strip it or hit you. I do think we settled for too many jump shots. I won’t mention any names.”
None were needed.