COLLEGE PARK — If only Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon could blame Saturday night’s 78-74 loss to Seton Hall at Xfinity Center solely on his team’s youth.
Making just 12 of 20 free throws — including the last four — played a bigger part, perhaps the biggest. So did some questionable decision-making by his two most experienced players.
And how about the fact that the Terps hadn’t played a game in 11 days and the Pirates had faced live competition twice during that stretch?
After talking about the way his team started each half — falling behind by 11 points in the early minutes and then watching a four-point halftime lead erased quickly — and giving credit to the Pirates, Turgeon got to the crux of his team’s defeat.
“Let’s be real,” he said. “They made free throws, we didn’t. They made open shots, we didn’t until it was really [too late]. That’s what it comes down to. With that being said, you look at the stats. It was a real even game. We battled. We did a lot of good things.
“The last five minutes — we had one turnover the first 15 minutes [of the second half] — we had three straight turnovers. We missed the front end of two straight one-and-ones. And they had a 59 percent foul shooter that made all of his free throws.”
Actually sophomore guard Myles Cale was shooting 61.9 percent from the free-throw line this season. Cale and junior guard Myles Brown were each 8-for-8 from the free-throw line and Seton Hall (9-3) was 18-for-21, making 11 of its last 12.
The turnovers in question came during a stretch that began with the teams tied at 64 and ended with the Pirates going on a 6-0 run on back-to back baskets by Cale (23 points) and two free throws by Powell (27 points) for a 70-64 lead.
Junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. made the first turnover, then had a shot in the lane blocked (essentially a turnover). Freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) was then called for an illegal screen when he and Cowan appeared to be confused on where they needed to be.
“He’s got to make better decisions,” Turgeon said of Cowan.
Turgeon said it was difficult to figure out why his team lost.
“In the end, it just comes down to things as simple as that,” Turgeon said of the missed free throws and critical turnovers. “And that’s a really good team that’s going to do well in their league. Quite frankly we just weren’t ready to take advantage of it and get a win today.”
Fernando’s 3-point mistake
After an ill-advised corner 3-pointer by Seton Hall forward Sandro Mamukelashvili with 1:12 remaining and the Pirates up 71-68, Turgeon called a timeout when the Terps struggled to get into their half-court offense.
Coming out of the timeout with 52 seconds left in the game and 12 seconds on the 30-second shot clock, Turgeon designed a play for sophomore center Bruno Fernando to set a high screen and then slip to the basket.
Fernando set the screen and then stepped behind the 3-point line for an even more ill-advised 3, given what Turgeon wanted to run and what the Terps needed at that juncture. Leaving Fernando 21 feet from the basket after a missed 3 wasn’t high on the list.
“We didn’t execute the play very well,” Turgeon said. “I’m not sure exactly that was the play [that cost Maryland the game]. There were a lot of plays that happened. He wasn’t supposed to be shooting the 3. He was supposed to be slipping [to the basket].”
Fernando led Maryland (9-3) with 19 points and 10 rebounds Saturday, but as has been the case most of this season and in his two years in college, all the scoring had been done inside. Still, Fernando had a good look and he’s improved his range.
“I was open,” Fernando said. “Every time I’m open in practice, I take that shot. So I was open and took the shot.”
Turgeon said that if not for Fernando, the Terps might not have come back the way they did in the first half. He scored 13 points in the first half, and helped turn an early 16-5 deficit into a 34-30 halftime lead.
“I thought Bruno was terrific. Bruno was amazing for us tonight,” Turgeon said. “He had two turnovers [and four assists]. He handled the double teams better. He was a beast. Bruno gave us everything he had.”
Ayala does a stand-up job
Freshman point guard Eric Ayala is quickly assuming a role Kevin Huerter often played during his two seasons at Maryland, when he gained a reputation for taking the heat after losses whether it was deserved or not.
After putting together a solid effort Saturday — 13 points, five assists, three rebounds, two blocked shots and no turnovers in 34 minutes — Ayala took some of the responsibility for his team’s loss.
“Obviously we missed a lot of free throws. Guys just got to get in the gym and make free throws, simple as that,” Ayala said. “Step up to the line, be confident, knock them down.
“I missed two that I could have made, that [I’m] easily capable of making. Just little simple stuff. We lost by four and we missed eight free throws. Stuff that can be fixed.”
There was also a foul Ayala committed trying to make a steal 90 feet from the Seton Hall basket that resulted in two of the free throws made by Cale. They came with Maryland ahead 61-60 with 5:13 remaining.
Asked if that was a sign of immaturity or perhaps trying too hard to make a play, Ayala said, “Just knowing time and situation. That was a silly foul on my end. At that time, we didn’t need that gamble for that steal I was trying. That was on my end. Freshman mistake. Something that won’t happen again.”