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After big win, Maryland takes a step backward

- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2012

ATLANTA — It wasn't necessary for many words to be uttered in Maryland's locker room in Philips Arena on Saturday afternoon.

The erratic Terrapins knew precisely what sort of impact their 63-61 loss at Georgia Tech would have on both their ambitions and the perception as a bunch capable of scraping out everything it was supposed to and maybe a little bit more.

"With the ups and downs we've gone through this year, it's very frustrating to me," guard Sean Mosley said. "It's the same thing over and over — we'll win a game, lose a game, win a game, lose a game."

It's the pattern for six games running, a midweek triumph followed by a Saturday setback. And it leaves Maryland (16-12, 6-8 ACC) in sole possession of eighth place in the conference with two titanic tests — at North Carolina on Wednesday before Sunday's home finale against Virginia — looming to close out the regular season.

But how Maryland lost Saturday was a more pointed problem than just vacillating between results. The Terps were sluggish at the start, uninspired early in the second half and inert on offense in the final two minutes.

The punishment for such indifference was just: a setback against a last-place team, the first defeat of the season that would qualify as unexpected and stunning based solely on the opponent.

"It's no fun going through the ups and downs....," coach Mark Turgeon said. "We're down six or seven, we really competed to get back into it. But when the game was on the line and they were making their run in the second half, just the lack of competitiveness, that was really hard. I like to think my teams usually do [compete]. Obviously, I'm not getting through to them as much as I need to."

At times after Saturday's game, Turgeon squinted and pushed the palm of his hand over his forehead. He was clearly a man with at least a figurative headache, if not more.

Unlike a week earlier, when the Terps followed a dominant performance against Boston College with a loss at Virginia, the culprits were clear. Whether Turgeon wanted to admit it immediately or not, a 48-hour turnaround coupled with a long, ill-timed bus trip didn't help. Neither did Virginia's suffocating defense.

The latest hiccup defied explanation. Maryland had four days to digest its 75-70 victory over Miami, a triumph arguably the most satisfying of the season. Georgia Tech was playing without leading score Glen Rice Jr., suspended for the third straight game. The Yellow Jackets had lost 10 of 11 and managed just 37 points in their previous outing.

A consistent team would handle this sort of test with ease. Instead, Maryland blew a nine-point lead in the second half and demonstrated its maturity (or lack thereof) in the process.

"Sometimes, it seems like it's a different team out there," forward James Padgett said.

With its worst traits on display, Maryland damaged its NIT hopes, looked nothing like the bunch that gamely rallied past an NCAA tournament contender earlier in the week and again demonstrated to Turgeon's chagrin a penchant to dart between various stages of development.

Turgeon didn't need to verbalize that reality, either. The Terps already understood — both why they'd stumbled and what they squandered along the way.

"He didn't have too much to say," Mosley said. "He's done a lot of talking throughout the course of the season. I know how frustrating it is for him because I'm feeling the same frustration right now. We keep talking and talking, and things aren't changing. He's not going to keep wasting his energy and breath after games to fuss and tell us what we did wrong because we know what we did wrong."

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