Maryland lost more than a 13-year winning streak yesterday. The Terrapins’ confidence seems gone, too.
Florida ended Maryland’s 87-game home winning streak against nonconference opponents with a 69-64 victory before 17,950 at Comcast Center. It was the kind of inconsistent outing that has plagued the No.18 Terps against ranked teams early in the season.
Maryland (4-3) is 0-3 against Top 25 opponents after No.14 Florida’s 9-0 scoring run with 13:16 remaining gave the Gators an eight-point edge that couldn’t be overcome. Earlier the Terps lost to Indiana and Notre Dame.
Maryland appears to have misplaced the comeback ability that fueled last season’s drive to the national championship, and senior point guard Steve Blake openly questioned the Terps’ toughness.
“I don’t think the team has the confidence that we’re going to win the game no matter what,” Blake said. “I felt that way last year, but it’s just not there right now. Hopefully, we can get that back.”
Coach Gary Williams conceded that some of last year’s role players are struggling to fulfill more demanding expectations. Center Tahj Holden managed just seven points and three rebounds against Florida, while guard Drew Nicholas scored only 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting from the field, including 2-for-8 on 3-point attempts.
“There’s a different challenge for these guys,” Williams said. “The guys from last year were an important part of the team, but if they didn’t play well, that probably wasn’t going to cost us the win. Now they have to play well for us to win against top-20 teams.”
Maryland has a nine-day break before playing Maryland-Baltimore County on Dec.23 in its only game over a two-week span. Williams has said the challenging early schedule is forcing the roster to mature quickly.
“This is good for all of us in the program because there’s a tendency to get spoiled sometimes,” he said. “We have to fight to defend ourselves. That’s good. Bring it on.”
The streak’s ending seemingly was taken more harshly by the stunned crowd than the team. Maryland beat three ranked opponents during the streak.
“We haven’t ducked anybody with our schedule,” Williams said. “[The streak] was well earned. We beat some ranked teams. I’m very proud of that streak.”
Second chances fueled Florida. Maryland was outrebounded 41-38, with Florida getting 17 second-chance points, five more than the hosts. Williams saw it as representative of the Terps getting outplayed on “hustle” plays.
“The second shots, the loose balls were all really big,” Williams said. “You have to figure out a way to get those balls and keep teams from getting second shots.”
Said Nicholas: “We’re not that far away. It’s not like we’re playing against good teams and getting blown out by 20. It’s little things, hustle plays. We’re not getting it done.”
Maryland opened with a 10-3 lead that was its biggest of the afternoon. Nicholas capped the run with a 10-footer that was his last field goal for nearly 16 minutes.
Florida (7-2) countered with a 14-4 streak fueled by guard Anthony Roberson (20 points) and forward Matt Bonner (16) for a 17-14 edge. Maryland’s smaller lineup scored eight straight points inside using freshman guard John Gilchrist’s three assists, but Maryland needed Blake’s running jumper as time expired to lead 34-33 at halftime.
Florida opened the second half with a 15-6 run that included nine unanswered points for a 48-40 lead with 13:16 left. Maryland cut it to two with three straight baskets, but Florida clearly had the momentum.
“They came out with a lot more energy than we did the first couple minutes of the second half and got that early lead and seemed to maintain it,” Williams said.
Maryland later cut Florida’s lead to 61-59 with 3:35 remaining after a pair of baskets underneath by forward Ryan Randle (18 points, 10 rebounds), but the Terps scored only one free throw until Gilchrist’s layup with 14.1 seconds left.
“We’d have a stretch for two or three minutes and then they broke our momentum,” Holden said.