The Maryland men's basketball team lost, 72-70, to Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Nov. 27. The Terps fell to 6-2 overall. Here are four observations on the loss:
1. Sophomore Kevin Huerter was the best player on the court for Maryland.
Huerter came into Maryland's contest against Syracuse having shot 10-for-29 from 3-point range during the Terps' first seven games of the season, good for 34.5 percent, a touch below his 37.1 percent mark from last year. He had also turned the ball over 20 times as he adjusted to a new role that included more ball-handling and playmaking responsibilities than his first year in College Park, Md.
But Huerter was 7-of-9 from 3-point range against the Orange and made several threes from NBA range. He also handled the point forward role in the middle of Syracuse's 2-3 zone early in the game -- and played some point guard, as well -- and only turned the ball over two times during his 37 minutes.
Huerter, who scored a game-high 23 points, made two huge 3-pointers in crunch time. Huerter made a 3-pointer from the top of the key in transition off a pass from sophomore Justin Jackson to give the Terps a 66-65 lead with 1:47 remaining. Huerter also gave Maryland a sliver of hope later, hitting another NBA 3-pointer to trim Syracuse's four-point lead to 70-69 with seven seconds left.
The game represented a homecoming of sorts for the Clifton Park, N.Y., native, as he had a slew of family and friends on hand. Huerter's performance against Syracuse,
which was once his dream school
, was reminiscent to how he fared against Northwestern and Xavier during postseason play last March. That's the Huerter the Terps will need in Big Ten play, which begins against Purdue Dec. 1.
2. Maryland is still searching for its go-to guy in crunch time.
Maryland ran its offense through Melo Trimble late in close games the past three years. Trimble would typically use ball screens to work his way into the lane and score at the rim, create for teammates or, most commonly, get to the free-throw line. The isolation-heavy approach grated on Maryland fans, but the Terps were 30-8 in games decided by six points or fewer during Trimble's three years.
Maryland is 1-2 in such games so far this year, and lost by two points to Syracuse and St. Bonaventure Nov. 24. It becomes more difficult to run sets the late in a game -- the opposing defense has usually seen everything an offense has to offer to that point -- so it often falls on individual players to make plays for themselves or for others.
Huerter was fantastic Nov. 27, but the Terps are still looking for a player who can consistently get to the basket in isolation and create contact when things break down late in the shot clock and late in games. Cowan has shown flashes of it, but Jackson (eight points Nov. 27) and Huerter don't excel in isolation.
Maryland didn't get a shot off during its biggest possession of the game at Syracuse. After Tyus Battle made a 3-pointer to put the Orange up, 68-66, with just more than a minute to play, Terps head coach Mark Turgeon
drew up a play for Huerter
, according to Inside Maryland Sports. But sophomore Anthony Cowan Jr. and Huerter instead passed the ball back and forth to one another far away from the hoop. Cowan eventually tried to drive, but turned it over and was forced to foul Battle.
Also problematic for Maryland was how many points it left on the court late. The Terps missed six free throws over the final 6:32, with Cowan, senior Sean Obi, and freshmen Darryl Morsell and Bruno Fernando all contributing.
3. The Terps did some good things against Syracuse's 2-3 zone.
St. Bonaventure threw a 1-3-1 zone at Maryland Nov. 24, and the Terps didn't respond well. They were just 5-of-23 from 3-point range over the zone and turned the ball over 20 times as Maryland struggled to find any rhythm against the Bonnies. Cowan, in particular, was stifled; he turned the ball over four times and had just three assists.
Maryland improved against the Orange, hitting 11 threes thanks in large part to Huerter, and moving the ball with more conviction through the zone; the Terps assisted on 22 of their 23 made baskets. Turgeon started the game with junior Dion Wiley at point guard, Huerter as the point forward in the middle of the zone and Cowan on the wing.
Turgeon eventually settled on using Morsell as the point forward, and he dished out five assists from that spot. The Terps figure to see plenty of zone in Big Ten play, and Morsell will be counted upon to deliver in the point forward role. Maryland still, however, turned the ball over 18 times against Syracuse, and the Terps couldn't beat the zone down the floor much because …
4. Syracuse beat Maryland on the boards.
The Orange out-rebounded the Terps, 39-33, and the Orange grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, which didn't allow the Terps much of a chance to get out on fast breaks. Fernando, one of Maryland's best rebounders, was in foul trouble for much of the second half. Syracuse is one of the best rebounding teams the Terps will see all year, so it might not be much of an issue long term.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox