Almost 30 games into the regular season, the Maryland basketball team remains in search of consistency.
Here's the situation. From one game - or one half - to the next, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon doesn't know if his players are going to deliver the same performance. It's uncertain if the Terrapins (15-14, 7-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) can even stay at the same level for one entire 40-minute game.
"Guys have to play consistently better," Turgeon said Monday.
This is why the Terrapins will have to buy a ticket if they want to go to the NCAA Tournament. They haven't won as many as two in a row since the start of the calendar year and their failings in the late going have denied the them victories in some critical games.
That was the case Sunday in a 77-73 double-overtime loss at Clemson. The Terrapins led by nine at one point and appeared ready to earn a rare road win before going scoreless for the last five minutes of regulation. Then, in the extra sessions, the Terrapins couldn't come up with the plays necessary to produce victory.
"It was a frustrating day," Turgeon said. "We just came up short."
It wasn't hard to pinpoint why. The Terrapins simply couldn't put the ball in the basket against the Tigers, who came into the game second in the country in scoring defense. Maryland's top three scorers - Dez Wells, Seth Allen and Jake Layman - combined to shoot 14 for 49 at Clemson. Layman's afternoon was particularly ugly; he missed 13 of 14 shots.
"He's had a god year," Turgeon said. "He just had a bad day."
If not for the inspired play of Evan Smotrycz, who scored 19 points off the bench, Maryland wouldn't have had a chance. Smotrycz didn't start Sunday because he'd struggled with his shot over the previous few games. Turgeon isn't sure if Smotrycz will start as the Terrapins play host to Virginia Tech (9-19, 2-14) on Tuesday night.
"I don't know what we're going to do with the starting lineup," Turgeon said.
In Virginia Tech, Maryland will face a team similar to Clemson - one that tries to limit possessions and slow the pace of the game.
A couple of games ago, Hokies head coach James Johnson switched to a 2-3 zone (rather than his usual man-to-man) in order to keep his injury-depleted roster out of foul trouble.
The tactic has enabled the Hokies to stay in games longer against opponents with superior talent.
Virginia Tech has won just once since the calendar flipped over to 2014, but it has come close against some quality teams in the past few weeks.
There was a 62-57 loss at Pitt Feb. 8. and a 57-53 loss to Virginia Feb. 18. More recently, the Hokies suffered a seven-point loss to N.C. State and a four-point loss to red-hot North Carolina Saturday.
"They're playing with much more confidence," Turgeon observed. "They've been right there with some of the top teams in our league. It (the zone) has definitely helped them. It helps their depth and keeps them out of foul trouble."
Maryland won the first meeting between the two teams, blitzing the Hokies, 80-60, in Blacksburg Feb. 1. The Terrapins shot .518 from the floor that afternoon - a figure they've surpassed only once since.
Maryland was fortunate that day that Virginia Tech star Jarrell Eddy got in foul trouble and suffered through his worst game of the season that day, Eddy, who leads the Hokies in scoring with a 13.4 average, missed all nine of his shots against the Terrapins and finished with just two points.