It was the cap to Maryland’s most significant week during nonconference play, a two-game sojourn from College Park certain to provide a glimpse into where the Terrapins would need to improve in the more than a month before delving into the ACC.
Sunday’s meeting with George Mason in the BB&T Classic was predictable in its general imperfection if not its exact flaws. There were missed free throws galore, plenty of turnovers and a clear sluggishness affecting Maryland.
One thing it didn’t impact was the outcome, a 69-62 defeat of the Patriots before an announced crowd of 10,256 at Verizon Center.
“Right now we haven’t scratched the surface on how good we could potentially be,” said sophomore Dez Wells, who had a game-high 25 points. “Potential means nothing if you don’t pan out to be it.”
His was a message perhaps both teams would wisely heed. As good as Maryland (6-1) was in the second half of Tuesday’s blowout of Northwestern, it was equally lethargic against the Patriots (5-3) in the opening stages.
The Terps’ talent is substantially upgraded from a year ago, and there is no questioning Maryland on its best night will cause fits for just about everyone.
Optimal play, though, will be sprinkled throughout the season. What’s more telling is how the Terps can fare when they’re not at their best for swaths of games against quality opposition.
Take the first half, when Maryland built a 34-30 lead only to watch Mason score the first seven points out of the break to ensure things would remain intriguing deep into the game.
“I just thought George Mason for the first 23 minutes played a lot tougher than we did, and I thought the last 17 after that timeout we showed a little bit more toughness,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “That was enough to win the game.”
This was a fascinating outing for the Patriots as well. George Mason coach Paul Hewitt purposefully scheduled tough, leaving opportunities to collect potentially resume-building triumphs. It worked against Virginia, it didn’t against Bucknell or New Mexico (in the Paradise Jam).
Nor did it against Maryland, but there was progress for the Patriots to find if they so chose. However turnover-prone it might be, Mason committed just nine giveaways. The Patriots capably defended the Terps in the paint, and freshman guard Patrick Holloway turned in 17 points (as did junior Sherrod Wright).
It was not a flawless day, particularly after a Holloway jumper tied it at 45 with 10:38 left. Mason’s decision-making didn’t lead to turnovers, but did yield several hollow possessions in the closing stretch.
“After we got the lead, our shot selection, which has been up and down offensively all year, kind of deserted us,” Hewitt said. “We continue to play good defense. If we ever get ourselves together offensively, we have a chance to be a pretty good team.”
His counterpart on the other sideline might be thinking the same thing. Maryland was abysmal at the foul line (23 of 39), although the Terps scored 12 of their 14 points in the final six minutes on free throws.
Still, Maryland put away the pesky Patriots, who made only two shots from the floor in the final 4:22.
“The game didn’t go the way we wanted it to go today, but it’s going to help us,” Turgeon said. “I can look across this sheet and we played 10 guys, and every one of them defensively played well for us and that’s comforting.”
The same could be said for Maryland’s progress since the start of the season. The Terps passed their last two serious nonconference tests in the last week, imperfect at times but nonetheless successful.
“Since the Northwestern game, we’ve probably gotten two or three percent better, so that’s good,” Wells said. “That’s a stride you have to make every day.”
Note: Maryland assistant coach Dalonte Hill missed the game with seven blood clots in his legs. “He’s doing better,” Turgeon said. “We’re hoping at the end of [this] week he’ll be back in the office.”