Maryland built its largest lead of the season early in the second half of Friday’s meeting with Florida Gulf Coast.
It was fortunate to do so.
The Terrapins nearly frittered away a 16-point edge before securing a 73-67 victory before a generously announced gathering of 12,080 at Comcast Center.
“We started settling and not attacking them,” guard Sean Mosley said. “We would just try to get the ball to half court instead of attacking their press so they couldn’t press us no more. We probably could have taken the lead up to 20, 30 points. It all depends. We settled and didn’t attack and that was the one thing coach wanted us to do was to attack.”
It was precisely what the Terps (3-2) needed to do.
Florida Gulf Coast (2-4) employed a press to impressive effect in the second half, rapidly eroding Maryland’s depth with an approach the Terps actually handled solidly in their first two games in Puerto Rico last week.
The same couldn’t be said for Friday.
The Terps maintained an advantage around 10 points for much of the second half, but the Eagles never fully disappeared. Then Maryland’s lead narrowed to seven, then to five and finally to 70-66 with 47.6 seconds left while wasting several possessions with turnovers.
“We built that thing up and guys were playing well and we just didn’t handle the press,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “If we just handled the press, I’m really, really happy right now. We just didn’t do that.”
And then his team didn’t make free throws, shooting a meager 4-for-12 at the foul line in the final 75 seconds to create an especially harrowing situation.
Against a better opponent, Maryland would have encountered greater danger. Just such a foe – 5-0 Illinois – will arrive in College Park on Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Terps’ immaturity revealed itself in several facets Friday. There were the 16 turnovers, the pounding they took in the post (the Eagles held a 42-26 scoring edge in the paint).
And then there was that 52-36 lead in a plodding game that predictable shrunk as the Terps grew increasingly sloppy.
“I think we felt like we had the game because we were up by so much,” said guard Terrell Stoglin, who scored a game-high 24 points. “Like I was telling guys in the huddle, they came back and they showed that.”
Stoglin was a microcosm of what unfolded around him. He missed six of eight free throws in a little more than a minute to maintain some hope for Florida Gulf Coast, and his defense slipped as he grew weary during the latter stages of his 35-minute stint.
Of course, he also made (not to mention created) shots none of his teammates could. He wasn’t perfect, but had spurts of solid productivity.
Sort of like the rest of his team.
“We made it a little too interesting with the free throws and all that stuff, but for the most part we were pretty good,” Turgeon said.
Left unspoken was the remaining need to get better – and quickly.