The Maryland basketball team brought a 7-0 record into Tuesday night's contest with Pittsburgh, but the undefeated mark didn't reflect the struggles coach Mark Turgeon's team had endured early on.
Five of the Terps' seven wins have come by six points or less. In victories over Towson and Richmond, mid-major foes, Maryland overcame double-digit deficits. Guard Melo Trimble's ability to finish through contact and draw fouls saved his team against Georgetown and Kansas State.
"We know we're nowhere near where we need to be," Turgeon said Monday. "We're very lucky to have the record we have. We get that."
The issues the Terps had worked through so far caught up to them Tuesday, resulting in a 73-59 loss to Pittsburgh in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Panthers shot 66.7 percent from the field in the first half to open up a 21-point, and Maryland couldn't replicate the late-game success from past contests in its first loss of the season.
"It was a good time to catch us, but it's not an excuse" said Turgeon, whose team was playing its fifth game in 10 days. "The fact is we didn't execute against the zone the way we should and the way we practiced [Monday], and we didn't run back on defense."
The Terps entered Tuesday's game shooting 31.3 percent from behind the arc, but they made three of their first four attempts against the Panthers. Forward Justin Jackson made two from the right corner, while guard Melo Trimble drilled his from the left in front of Pittsburgh's bench. Behind Jackson's eight points, the Terps held an 13-7 lead about five minutes into the game.
But after a scorching start, Maryland hit one more long ball the rest of the half. Pittsburgh went into a zone defense, and the Terps didn't capitalize on their open looks.
"They practice it as you can tell. They were really effective in it," said Trimble, who was 2-for-8 from three point range. "We just couldn't make any shots."
Meanwhile, Turgeon's team had no response for forwards Michael Young and Jamel Artis, who finished with 25 and 22 points, respectively. They spearheaded Pittsburgh's 33-7 run and combined to score 25 points in the first half, outscoring a Terps team that entered the break in a 45-24 hole.
"Our team played about as well in the first half as we've played on both ends," Panthers coach Kevin Stallings said.
Young and Artis combined to go 4-for-6 from long range in that stretch, matching the Terps' total over that span in 10 fewer attempts. It marked the second time in three games Maryland has settled for and missed 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes. Against Richmond, it entered halftime trailing by 12 after making just one of its 13 attempts from behind the arc.
The Terps reversed those woes after the break Friday night in their 88-82 overtime win, and they shot it better from deep in the second half against the Panthers.
Forward Dion Wiley's 3-pointer cut Pittsburgh's lead to 12 with about five minutes to play, igniting the 17,144 fans at the Xfinity Center who spent much of the night in silence. The noise level increased as freshman guard Anthony Cowan converted a layup a few possessions later. The Terps were within 10 for the first time since the first period.
As it had in several games this season, Turgeon's team was mounting a comeback.
"We've been down, but I don't know yet this season we've been down that far," forward Damonte Dodd said. "It was tough, but we just kept fighting, kept playing and everyone believed."
Down 10 with less than two minutes to play, Trimble dribbled past his defender, marking one of the few times the junior got to the rim. But as he went up for the layup, a Pittsburgh player swatted the attempt out of bounds.
Trimble (13 points) wasn't used to that. In previous contests, his late-game drives ended in points via a layup or at the foul line. Those plays helped Maryland escape the Barclays Center and the Verizon Center with one-point victories.
But Trimble and his teammates walked off the Xfinity Center floor after Tuesday's night's game with a feeling they hadn't experienced yet this season.
"We cut a 25-point lead to eight and could've got it to six with three minutes to go," Turgeon said. "It shows that we still have a lot of fight in us.
"This just wasn't our night."