- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

For the Maryland Terrapins, once-bright hopes of a return to the NCAA tournament have dimmed. Offseason optimism has given way to regular season reality.

In an 83-79 loss to Pittsburgh at Comcast Center on Saturday, Maryland’s performance was emblematic of the team’s season thus far. There were flashes of talent and cohesion, undone by ill-timed miscues.

But as Maryland battled back from a 13-point deficit to threaten Pittsburgh late, the Terps saw signs that they may yet make a run this season.

“I feel like we can get better,” guard Dez Wells said. “Regardless of how far we’re down or how much we’re up, we still have some fight.”

With Maryland sitting at 11-9 (3-4 ACC) as it prepares to host Miami (10-9, 2-5) on Wednesday, the team can ill afford to be a work-in-progress much longer.

Much of that responsibility falls on Seth Allen, the point guard who missed the first two months of the season with a broken foot.

Although Allen’s playing time has gradually grown over his eight games, with the sophomore logging a season-high 35 minutes Saturday, his shooting touch remains rusty. After converting at a 39 percent clip from the field as a freshman, he’s shooting just 31 percent this season.

Forward Jake Layman offers similar untapped potential, as Maryland’s second-leading scorer cracked double digits for just the second time in seven contests with 18 points Saturday.

Yet it’ll take more than just Allen and Layman getting back on track for the Terps to turn their season around. The tropes of defensive discipline and patience on offense remain points of emphasis for a team with no seniors in its 10-man rotation.

As coach Mark Turgeon said Saturday, “Guys have just got to do their jobs better.”

“When we get down, sometimes we do panic and some guys just try to take the game over themselves,” Layman said. “But in practice, we really focus on just sharing the ball and getting the right shots on offense.”

“Watching film, the same stuff is happening, whether it’s not taking the right shot or not having the right location on defense. It’s definitely frustrating, and it’s got to be more frustrating for Coach. He drills it into our heads, what to do, what not to do.”

While Miami won the ACC title last March and made a run to the Sweet 16, the Hurricanes with a revamped roster have failed to re-create that magic. Senior guard Rion Brown leads a squad that likes to slow down the tempo, giving it the nation’s No. 10 defense but an offense ranked 345th entering Wednesday.

“We’ve seen a couple games of them,” Layman said. “But we really need to focus on us, not them — focus on the things that we can do better on the offensive and defensive end.”

With unsightly home losses to Oregon State and Boston University out of conference, Maryland must dramatically strengthen its ACC resume if it wants to take part in March Madness for the first time since 2010.

And that task starts with getting back to .500 in conference play with a win over the struggling Hurricanes.

“I’ve played enough basketball to know that at any given moment anything can turn around for you,” Wells said. “I feel like we can win any game. We still have our best basketball ahead of us.”

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