From continued offensive struggles against top competition to a much-needed boost from a role player, here are three takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball’s 73-70 road loss to Purdue on Friday:
Offensive flow has been a grind.
In a disappointing one-possession loss, it can be easy to look at the two late missed free throws by senior guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph), which would have tied the game at 72 with 19 seconds remaining. But, as Maryland coach Mark Turgeon noted after the game, Morsell was not the only player who struggled from the free-throw line, as the Terps missed 11 of 21 attempts.
Frankly, a consistent offense of any kind has been hard for Maryland to come by against its toughest opponents so far this season.
In Maryland’s three losses, all to the only Power Five teams it has faced to date, the Terps have produced their three worst shooting performances of the season. Turgeon has said he expected the team wouldn’t score as easily once it entered conference play but slow starts have also put the team in holes that it has not been able to dig out of. In losses to Purdue, Rutgers and Clemson, Maryland has faced deficits of 15, 14 and 25.
Maryland’s top players — Morsell and junior guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins — all had solid offensive production, and sophomore forward Donta Scott was Maryland’s go-to scorer late, dropping his team-high 15 points in the second half.
But on too many occasions, Maryland shooters had to settle for contested or ill-advised shots. Maybe no better example of this was Maryland’s offensive set down 72-70 with 18 seconds left. Scott set a side screen for Ayala to allow for a 3-point attempt but the spacing was jumbled and Ayala ended up throwing up an errant shot in an attempt to draw a foul.
Turgeon was asked after the game if that possession was an example of his team missing the playmaking of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith.
“It’s going to be different every night with our team,” Turgeon said. “Our advantage there late was Donta Scott and he took advantage of it. That was our advantage. We executed well, we got good looks, we played inside out. … This is this year’s team. That was last year’s team.”
Maryland’s struggles on defense have surprisingly come on the perimeter.
Maryland entered the game aware of Purdue’s size in the frontcourt, and given the Boilermakers’ advantage, the Terps fared well. Purdue forward Trevion Williams spent much of the game on the bench with foul trouble, and the team battled inside against 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey with a smaller lineup for much of the game. The Boilermakers out-rebounded the Terps by 10 but scored just 26 points in the paint.
Much of Purdue’s damage came from long range, where Maryland gave up 10 3-pointers in the game and seven in the first half. Turgeon was complimentary of the team’s post defense but said the perimeter defense needed to improve.
Despite multiple returning upperclassmen in the backcourt, the Terps have struggled with ball screens and rotations, and miscommunication between players has left opponents with too many open shots. Entering Saturday, Maryland is allowing opponents to shoot 36% on 3-point attempts, which ranks in the bottom half of the country.
Turgeon recently said that defense has been a point of emphasis in practice, but as of now, it’s still a work in progress.
Chol Marial’s play was an encouraging sign.
As sophomore center Chol Marial’s playing time was limited for much of nonconference play, Turgeon predicted — and maybe more so hoped — that the 7-footer would have a larger role during the conference schedule, with the team needing his size against other Big Ten frontcourts.
Turgeon turned to Marial on Friday, and while his box score may say otherwise, the results were promising. The South Sudan native jostled with Edey for position while he was on the court. Maryland didn’t give Marial many post touches and he ended up shooting three of his four field-goal attempts from beyond the arc, unable to connect on any. Turgeon didn’t take issue with Marial’s shot selection and said he would get more comfortable with the distance shots as he attempted more in a game.
More importantly, Marial was able to provide an interior presence for a Maryland team that doesn’t have much of it. Marial’s activeness around the rim put Williams in foul trouble for much of the afternoon. As Maryland continues Big Ten play, Marial should see more time and Friday was a step in the right direction.
“It’s just a matter of the game,” junior guard Aaron Wiggins said. “There might be games where he doesn’t get the same amount of minutes because the team that we’re playing has small guys, and then there’s games like this where he’ll be able to step in. It was nothing surprising to me. I knew he could play.”
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