Sleepwalking start in win over Penn State should provide Maryland with wake-up call

This is the time of year when everybody is doing some kind of best-and-worst list, so maybe it was appropriate that the Maryland Terps showed both how good and how bad they could be on the same night.

They could not have looked any more discombobulated than they did in the first half of Wednesday's 70-64 victory over Penn State in their Big Ten opener. And they could not have looked much better than they did in rebounding from a 13-point deficit in the waning minutes of a game that almost cost them a chunk of their hard-earned national respect.


Still, coach Mark Turgeon's team might want to view this one as a wake-up call, because the No. 4 Terps would not have escaped with their lofty ranking if they had opened up against a more formidable opponent.

"We'll see," Turgeon said. "We'll know on Saturday night and we're at Northwestern. Hopefully we'll take it as a wake-up call and we'll get better."

Surely, it would be fair for the Terps to draw some confidence from their ability to avert disaster when all seemed lost late in the second half. But they cannot forget that they started slow enough to get blown out by anybody who didn't come into the game as a double-digit underdog.

How slow? Well, they hit a pair of 3-pointers at the outset and then missed 17 of their next 18 shots — and 13 in a row at one point — during a field-goal slump that lasted more than 13 minutes.

"Offensively, that is as bad as we've been by a long shot. ... Not even close," Turgeon said. "To still get up and get it done is good for us."

They eventually did just that, but you've got to be wondering what was going through their coach's mind as he watched shot after shot clank off the rim and his talent-rich lineup look lost for most of a half against a team that was ranked 13th among the 14 Big Ten teams in several preseason polls.

"I think it kind of shocked everybody," Turgeon said. "Shocked us. Shocked the players. Just shocked us. We kept thinking, 'We're going to make one. We're going to make another one.' You have to figure out ways to score, so to start the second half, we shot all layups and got to the rim. If you're not making jump shots, you've got to figure out other ways to score. That's the sign of a good team."

Turgeon was quick to point out that the media and the fans — and maybe even a few of his players — might have taken for granted that the Terps could just walk out on the floor at Xfinity Center and sweep a team like Penn State out of the arena.

If so, perhaps there was a lesson to be learned from Maryland's own recent history.

You might recall that exactly a year ago to the day, the brand-new Big Ten school that was ranked 10th in those same conference polls opened the conference season on the road against a Michigan State team that would eventually reach the Final Four. The Terps defeated the Spartans in double overtime and went on to finish a surprising second in the Big Ten regular season standings — ahead of Michigan State.

Two seasons. Two very different tableaus.

The Terps came into last season with tempered expectations and pulled off a couple of significant nonconference wins against Iowa State and Oklahoma State before making a big splash in their Big Ten debut.

This year's team was ranked No. 3 in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll and came into Wednesday with an 11-1 record in nonconference play, but lost its only game against a ranked opponent.

There's no question that this team is the far more talented one by any reasonable measure, but it clearly is still a work in progress.


They were saved Wednesday night by an otherworldly, record-breaking performance from freshman Diamond Stone. The next time they sleep through the first 33 minutes of a game, they might not be so lucky.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at