RALEIGH, N.C. — The overall quality of opposition Maryland faced in a month-long homestand might have masked the Terrapins' thin margin of error, even with a full complement of players.
They avoided losses despite extended plodding stretches in several games in recent weeks. The same couldn't be said for the Terps on Sunday against N.C. State.
Maryland sabotaged its chances of capturing their ACC opener with ill-timed inattentiveness on defense, suffering a 79-74 loss to the Wolfpack in the conference opener for both teams.
Terrell Stoglin overcame early foul trouble to finish with 25 points for Maryland (10-4), which saw its seven-game winning streak end.
"Basically, we just weren't getting back on defense," Stoglin said. "We had some lapses on the defensive end. Everything else was good. If we had gotten back on defense, we would have won tonight."
A loss is hardly a season-altering development for the Terps, who had not traveled outside the D.C. area since before Thanksgiving. The team that straggled home from a forgettable three outings in Puerto Rico then hardly resembles the bunch that Sunday proved resilient if not efficient against the Wolfpack (12-4).
Some of the change is connected with the additions of guard Pe'Shon Howard (eight assists) and center Alex Len (12 points and 11 rebounds), both of whom had solid moments Sunday. But the Terps also have matured out of necessity over the past 10 games.
Of course, Sunday revealed a little more advancement is needed, and soon.
"As a team, we really grew up tonight," coach Mark Turgeon said. "We haven't played that well. We just had that one stretch which we always have."
In Tuesday's defeat of Cornell, it covered a large chunk of the second half as the Big Red whittled down what once was a 23-point deficit to a point. The duration of the Terps' issues against N.C. State weren't as long, though the opponent's ability to exploit shortcomings was far sharper.
Each time Maryland closed in on the Wolfpack in the second half, there was a high-percentage answer in the post. C.J. Leslie's dunk with 15:25 left came a possession after the Terps pulled to 42-39. And after Len missed a layup that would have cut Maryland's deficit to a point, N.C. State's DeShawn Painter hustled back to collect a long outlet pass to deliver a thunderous dunk and make it 56-51.
Moments later, Painter added a three-point play, securing a multi-possession lead the Wolfpack would hold onto until the final seconds.
Leslie finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds for N.C. State, which snapped a nine-game losing streak against Maryland. The Wolfpack's previous defeat of the Terps was on Super Bowl Sunday in 2006.
"I thought their big guys dominated our big guys for the most part," Turgeon said.
Maryland, of course, might have guessed before the season it might have some troubles in the post. The end of Len's suspension smoothed those issues to some extent, but he received little offensive help Sunday.
Forwards James Padgett, Ashton Pankey and Berend Weijs combined for seven points in 53 minutes of work, and Turgeon eventually abandoned a conventional lineup for a four-guard set in the final four minutes.
"I thought we ... had some great opportunities inside and we missed a couple layups that our big guys usually don't miss," guard Sean Mosley said. "It was just one of those games where things weren't falling for them."
Even so, Maryland was vastly better overall than the last time it ventured far from home. The margin of error, it turns out, still is slim, and the Terps have an 0-1 conference record to show for it.
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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