Allegany Communications Sports

It’s been clear from the beginning the Maryland basketball Terrapins have a shooting and scoring problem — they don’t do either very well — and this problem was magnified Tuesday against the No. 1 team in the country, the Purdue Boilermakers, who, unlike last year when they were rocked by the Terps and their exhilarated fans, came to Xfinity Center this year, saw and conquered with a 67-53 Big Ten victory.

Unlike last year, even when they were ranked No. 1 for much of the season, Purdue really looks the part this year. As always, they are well coached by Matt Painter and his staff, they don’t make mistakes; they are unselfish and they have the frontrunner to be the college basketball player of the year in 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, who looks a lot leaner and a lot quicker than he did last year when he was already one of the best players in the country.

Last year, Maryland (9-5 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) was able to take advantage of Purdue’s weak guard play, particularly on the wings, which you could see as being a big problem for the Boilermakers down the road; and it was, as the NCAA Tournament is first and foremost about guard play, and Purdue’s guards were exposed early, as Fairleigh Dickinson became just the second No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 in the first round of the tournament.

That does not appear to be the case this year, as Purdue’s guard play has been seriously upgraded, which, with Edey and the other bigs on the front line running the court and protecting the paint, makes Purdue a legitimate threat to cut down nets in March.

Maryland, to its credit, still plays as hard as ever, and should be credited for keeping the score relatively low, though head coach Kevin Willard said afterward he thought his team’s defense had been poor, but did concede that the offense was far worse.

Of the many open shots the Terps had Tuesday night — and they had more than you would have thought they’d have — many of them were altered in mid- and close range because of Purdue’s size and quickness, but the rest of them were just flat-out missed.

Jahmir Young led the Terps again with 26 points, but 14 games into the season, no one else has stepped up to help him — not Julian Reese, who was scoreless against Purdue, not Donta Scott, who finished with eight points, not the heralded freshmen, not anybody.

Aside from Young, the rest of the Terps shot 9-for-40 from the field and 3-for-16 from the three-point line. Reese, who scored just one point in the win at UCLA, looks lost and was completely non-factored by Edey’s presence.

It was just the second loss in the last 10 games for Maryland, but Willard has to find a way to force the issue with Reese so the team can go back to working inside-out now that the Terps find themselves in the thick of the conference schedule.

That will be no easy fix, as the Terps’ poor shooting is also magnified by the lack of a transition game, as your eye test instantly reminds you of all that Hakim Hart did for Maryland the previous two years now that he plays for Villanova and not Maryland.

Though the defense has been decent and may necessitate a slower game offensively until the shots start to fall, it just doesn’t appear the Terps have the personnel to match up in a halfcourt game, particularly in the Big Ten.

It’s important for Maryland to be able to press, but to do that they have to make shots, which they haven’t done this season. It’s the chicken and the egg; which comes first? In this case it’s the egg, as the Terps have to make the shots before they are able to press.

“We’ll definitely be a different team in February,” Willard said. “It’s tough. It’s tough to play these games when your students aren’t here, to be honest with you. They make a huge difference. But I do think these kinds of games are good for us in fact that some of these guys will kind of see where we’re at.”

The loss ended the Terps’ 19-game home winning streak and, as Willard pointed out, while attendance was announced at 14,000-plus, the students are not back to school yet, and it does make a big difference when they are or aren’t there.

Nor will they be there on Sunday when the Terps go to Minnesota for what appears to be a winnable game with the Gophers.

Yet can we really say any game is winnable at this point until Maryland starts making some shots?

We can say it, but it doesn’t make it so.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT