NEWARK, N.J. — A year ago, the Maryland men’s basketball team emerged from its 11-day break for final exams hoping to build some momentum as Big Ten play loomed. Led by Myles Powell, Seton Hall interrupted what became a stretch of nine wins in 10 games for the Terps, including six straight in the Big Ten.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon can only hope that his team can respond similarly after what happened Thursday night at the Prudential Center.
Despite the Pirates missing their two top scorers, Powell and junior forward Sandro Mamukelashvili, because of injury, the No. 7 Terps were simply missing everything — shots, teamwork, defense, decision-making and certainly coaching— for much of the night before making a frantic, ill-fated comeback in a 52-48 defeat.
It was the second straight loss for Maryland, coming after a nine-day break following the team’s first loss of the season at now 23rd-ranked Penn State. The Terps have nine more days off before they get a breather against Bryant, followed by Big Ten home games against Indiana and No. 5 Ohio State.
“Sometimes you’ve got to hit rock bottom. I don’t know if it is rock bottom,” Turgeon said. “We’ll see. But if it is, then maybe we’ll come back and be a little bit better after Christmas.”
While the Terps threatened for most of the game to challenge the lowest scoring output in Turgeon’s nine years — coming in a 62-42 defeat to Alabama on Nov. 17, 2011 — it was a night of offensive futility. Maryland shot a dismal 14-for-52 from the field, including 5-for-21 on 3-pointers, while committing 17 turnovers.
“I thought Seton Hall was terrific, especially on the defensive end,” Turgeon said after the Terps had their lowest scoring game since they joined the Big Ten for the 2014-15 season. “Their big guys were terrific, blocking  shots, guarding the ball was great, switching their defenses tonight."
And his own team?
“We didn’t play well,” Turgeon continued during his opening remarks at the postgame news conference. "We’re not playing with a lot of confidence right now. I’ve got to figure out a way to get our guys confidence because we don’t look like the same team we were three weeks ago.
“I don’t know what to tell you. We didn’t execute really well. We got to get better in a lot of things, the No. 1 thing is confidence. I guess the break comes at a good time for us, to get away a little bit and come back. We know our issues, and we’ll try to get them fixed.”
Sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins spoke about the slow starts, something the Terps were able to overcome until the past two games.
“I think it’s a matter of wanting it,” Wiggins said. "I think a few of the guys might have got a little comfortable and thought wins could come easy. Anthony has come up really big for us in a lot of games hitting big shots down the stretch, just taking over the game. I think a lot of guys might have gotten comfortable and thought that if we ever get in situations that Ant can bail us out. We can’t rely on Ant and Turge to come up with those plays to where we win late in the game. We’ve just to come out of the gate and just be ready to play and execute our plays. We just didn’t do a good job of that today.”
Similar to the loss to the Nittany Lions in State College, Maryland (10-2) made critical mistakes down the stretch.
The most glaring came with the Terps down three and in possession after senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. forced a turnover with 35 seconds to go. But after Turgeon called timeout, junior guard Darryl Morsell’s looping inbounds pass was too short, and picked off by the Pirates guard Anthony Nelson, who reopened the door for Maryland by missing the front end of a one-and-one with 30 seconds left.
After Cowan missed a straightaway 3-pointer, Maryland’s last chance came after Nelson hit one of two free throws to put Seton Hall (7-4) ahead by four. Cowan, whose late 3-pointer and free throw off a steal helped Maryland beat Illinois at home, 59-58, on Dec. 7, was fouled taking a desperation 3-pointer. He made the first two free throws, missed the third and Seton Hall snagged the rebound.
Senior guard Quincy McKnight, who led the Pirates with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists, made both free throws to secure the victory. Cowan led the Terps with 16 points, but as happened in State College, he didn’t shoot the ball well (3-for-14 overall, 3-for-10 on 3s) and his decision-making (five turnovers to three assists) was suspect.
“After [losing at Rutgers [in the game Brown suffered a concussion] there was a little doubt,” McKnight said. “We did a lot of soul-searching these past four days, whatever it was. This is a good program win right here. We’re out an All-American [in Powell] and we out our starting power forward in Sandro, we’re down two players like that, two leading scorers at the moment. It was tough. We dug down.”
Asked to assess his team’s offensive struggles, Cowan said: “Just not executing. We’re not hitting shots. When you have that combination, it’s not really too good. We’ll figure it out.”
Cowan said that the team has not improved since its dominant performance over Marquette in the championship game of the Orlando Invitational on Dec. 1, and if anything, have regressed in its preparation.
“We’ve not practiced as hard as we need to,” Cowan said. “We’ve put some offense that Coach put in, but we just haven’t executed it.”
Asked if the Terps might have taken the Pirates too lightly given the absence of Powell, who scored 28 points in the win at College Park last season, Wiggins acknowledged the possibility.
“That can’t be a feeling, but of course that can creep in,” Wiggins said. “That might have crept in a little bit today and I think our team has to be fired up and ready to play every team regardless of who they have on the court.”
Turgeon seems as frustrated with his team as he’s been the past two years.
“A coach gets up here and gets up here and talks, and a coach knows his team when you’re winning,” Turgeon said. “There’s issues we’ve just got to get worked out. We’ve still a lot of going on with our team. And hopefully tonight will allow guys to be more coachable as we move forward.”
Asked if there’s a chemistry issue, Turgeon said: “We’ve got to move the ball a little bit better. We’ve got to share the ball a little bit better. I don’t know if it’s chemistry. It’s just recognizing situations better. We keep working on it. We keep talking about. I think it’s just being better in decision-making. I think that’ll help everything.”