CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Can progress be measured in an eight-point defeat to team that was beating nearly everyone else by double-digits?
It took a late 3-point shot by sophomore guard Seth Allen to get Maryland (14-11 overall, 6-6 in Atlantic Coast Conference) back to within single digits in Monday’s 61-53 loss to No. 20 Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena, but the Terps still seemed to have a chance to win after cutting an 11-point deficit to four with a little over a minute left.
That’s when junior forward Evan Smotrycz’s 3-pointer rimmed out after seemingly finding the inside of the cylinder. Forced to foul, the Terps watched the deficit grow. Smotrycz later missed another 3-pointer — that one hit the back rim — and the Cavaliers kept hitting free throws.
When a reporter asked Maryland coach Mark Turgeon if he throught the first 3-pointer was going in, but misidentified the shooter as sophomore forward Jake Layman, Mark Turgeon smiled and politely corrected him.
“You mean Smotrycz’s? Evan’s? The one that went all the way in and bounced out? Yeah,” Turgeon said.
That a play was called for Smotrycz in that situation showed the confidence Turgeon has in him. After missing all four shots he tried in Saturday’s win over Florida State, Smotrycz made his first two Monday before missing 10 of the next 11.
Given his struggles, and the fact that both Layman and sophomore center Shaquille Cleare sustained injuries during the game, it’s remarkable that the Terps made it as close as they did. Allen led Maryland with 15 points, playing 35 minutes.
Asked if getting the shots down the stretch that he wanted his team to take made losing a little easier to digest, Turgeon said: “We’ve gotten so much better in the last month. Today was even better than last Saturday [a win over Florida State at home] and better than last Tuesday at North Carolina [a loss by 12 after being down 19-3 to start the game].
“We’re figuring it out. We had a couple of guys who couldn’t play in the second half because of injuries, but they’re going to be fine. We were really limited in numbers, and I think that’s the difference with Virginia this year. They’re a much deeper basketball team than they’ve been the last couple of years, and they’ve been able to sustain it throughout the game.”
Layman hit first 3-pointer — usually a good sign — but then tried to play through the blurred vision that resulted from getting accidently poked in the left eye during a defensive switch late in the first half. After sitting out the last few minutes before halftime, Layman returned in the second half.
When he passed up a wide-open 3-pointer in the second half, Turgeon pulled him for good.
“I was like, ‘Why didn’t you shoot?’ He goes, ‘Because I couldn’t see,’ I go, ‘So what are you doing in the game?’” Turgeon said later.
The Terps also played part of the second half without Cleare, though he was barely a factor before injuring his shoulder trying to block an attempted tomahawk dunk by Virginia forward Akil Mitchell. Cleare finished with just one rebound in 11 minutes.
Trailing 52-41 with 4:18 to play, Maryland’s ill-fated comeback was led by junior guard Nick Faust, who had replaced Layman. Faust made a pair of free throws, a 3-pointer and a breakaway dunk after tipping a pass from Virginia point guard London Perrantes, the Cavaliers’ only turnover of the second half.
Faust, who finished with nine points and four rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench, said the comeback — coming two weeks after the Terps collapsed in the second half at North Carolina State after being ahead 11 points — “definitely shows us we’re growing as a team, that guys are growing up.”
Turgeon, whose team will play at No. 8 Duke on Saturday, can see a difference.
“Think about where we were at N.C. State, the way we played, the way we didn’t share the ball and all that,” Turgeon said. “ ... We’re night and day. We’ve come a long way.”