Mark Turgeon typically likes to give his Maryland men’s basketball team a few days off around Christmas, and this season will be no exception.
The problem this time is that Turgeon might be a little distracted — and concerned — after the Terps went into their mini-break with a disappointing 78-74 loss to Seton Hall on Saturday at Xfinity Center.
The defeat to the Pirates was only the second time Maryland had lost after its annual extended break from games during final exams in Turgeon’s eight years.
The previous one, to Boston University in 2013-14, came during a difficult year when the Terps finished 17-15 in their farewell season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
This time, Turgeon seems more confident that the problems that resurfaced early and late against the Pirates are fixable before the Big Ten schedule resumes at home Jan. 2 against No. 25 Nebraska.
Maryland (9-3) has one game between now and then, Saturday at home against Radford, which went to the NCAA tournament last season and won at both then-No. 17 Texas and Notre Dame this year.
“Days like today help get us ready,” Turgeon said after the Seton Hall game. “We had worked really hard in practice to do certain things offensively and we weren’t able to do them today.
“We got to figure out before January, whenever that game is against Nebraska, and we play a really good team in Radford after Christmas, to be a little more efficient in some things.”
A lot of it has to do with playing five freshmen in what has become an eight-man rotation, with one of them, Eric Ayala Jr., running the point for a majority of the game.
“We’re having to call too many plays rather than playing [in] rhythm, and things that we do at practice,” Turgeon said. “Once that we get that down, we’ll be a harder team to guard and a much better team.”
Though Ayala finished with 13 points, five assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes, freshman wing Aaron Wiggins had just two points, shooting 1-for-6 overall and missing all four of his 3-point attempts while playing almost 18 minutes.
Junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 15 points, but shot just 5-for-13 overall and 3 of 8 on 3-pointers while being hounded by 6-foot-4 junior guard Quincy McKnight, whom Turgeon called “a big-time defender.”
Cowan went to the free-throw line only once — making both — compared with counterparts Myles Powell and Myles Cale, both of whom shot 8 for 8 from the line en route to scoring 27 and 23 points, respectively.
“We’ve got to have more players play better. There was a lot on Anthony tonight,” Turgeon said. “They did a nice job [defensively on] Anthony. “They did a really good job when he got in the paint. I thought we’ve just got to make better decisions when we get in there.”
Sophomore center Bruno Fernando, who got his fifth double double of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds, as well as three blocked shots, said: “It was frustrating. We knew it was going [to come down] to the foul line. They made a lot of free throws. We didn’t.”
Free-throw shooting proved costly for the first time this season. Not only did Maryland shoot just 12-for-20 compared with 18-for-21 for Seton Hall, but the Terps missed free throws at critical junctures of the second half.
After a desperation 3-pointer with the 30-second shot clock about to expire by sophomore guard Darryl Morsell — who had made just three of 18 this season — gave the Terps a 56-52 lead, the former Mount Saint Joseph star missed a pair of free throws with his team up by two.
With the score tied at 62, freshman forward Jalen Smith (14 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) missed one of two free throws and then, after a missed shot by the Pirates gave Maryland a chance to extend its lead, the team’s other former Mount Saint Joseph star missed the front end of a one-and-one.
“In the end we’ve got to step up and make free throws, too, when we have the lead, build the lead and have a little more confidence,” Turgeon said.
Fernando said that even before practice resumes later this week, “we need to get in the gym on our own and make a lot of free throws and other shots we take in the game and try to come back for the next game and move on from that.”
Despite the loss, Turgeon said he can see progress. Even though many fans left Xfinity Center more disgruntled than at any other point this season, Turgeon believes the outcome overshadowed some of the positives he saw in what he called “our young team.”
There was the fact that Maryland outrebounded Seton Hall 36-31. The Terps committed just one turnover in the first 15 minutes of the second half before committing three in the last five minutes, finishing with 10 for the game. After averaging around 16 turnovers through their first eight games, Maryland is averaging nine in its past two.
The Pirates, though, took advantage of the mistakes, scoring 16 points off Maryland’s turnovers, compared with the seven points Maryland scored off the eight turnovers made by Seton Hall, which came into the game ranked 20th in fewest turnovers (10.8 average) committed.
“I told our team, ‘We’ve done some pretty good things up until today,’ ” Turgeon said. “Today would have been an amazing win for our young team. It would have been. We just didn’t make the plays when we had to make the plays.