The Maryland Terrapins appear lost, and upperclassmen are surprisingly leading the way.
Maryland (20-4) dropped its second straight Feb. 7 to a terrible Penn State team, 70-64. The Nittany Lions (13-12) were awful, converting 2-of-18 3-pointers while shooting 42.9 percent overall, and they still dominated the Terps from the start.
It's officially a midseason slump for a young team that surprised everyone during a 20-2 start. But relying heavily on three freshmen will eventually provide a crisis, and Maryland has found it one month from the NCAA Tournament.
It's remarkable the Terps lasted this long before a close defeat sparked a poor stretch. The last-second loss to No. 17 Purdue Feb. 4 was still respectable, but Maryland showed a hangover at Penn State. The Terps passed poorly, fouled often by being slow defensively and took awful shots.
Yet the Terps were in the game the entire way. They just couldn't shake the malaise that gripped them firmly. And that's where upperclassmen should have led. It's one thing for freshmen making their way through the long grind to tire. It happens. Older players know better, though.
Junior guard Melo Trimble and senior center Damonte Dodd should carry the team in situations like this. Instead, Trimble scored 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting, and Dodd managed six points while dogged with four fouls.
That's inexcusable. The two haven't effectively led this team when they were needed most this season. Dodd can at least blame persistent injuries, which have kept him from establishing a consistent rhythm, but Trimble hasn't converted his outside shot consistently and rarely in pressure situations.
Freshmen Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter need to know older players have their backs on off days. And while 24 games in means freshmen are no longer rookies, there are stages to the season they still need to learn. The biggest is it gets harder the closer you get to the tournaments. Everybody's intensity is raised, even by desperate bad teams. Everybody wants to beat Maryland for a quality resume-builder.
Head coach Mark Turgeon has done an excellent job with this young roster. It's his strength, given last year's veteran team collapsed under NBA distractions facing the entire starting lineup. Turgeon never found the right switch even though he reached the Sweet 16 after a couple of earlier tournament mismatches. That crew never seemed to truly care for thoughts of pro paychecks.
Turgeon milked a lot from his current crew during the 20-2 start. The Terps won a lot of games at the end just like past years -- stay close, make a few defensive stops and free throws at the end and escape with a narrow victory. Purdue was the first one Maryland didn't steal that way this year.
That the Terps followed with a sloppy game wasn't unexpected. But Turgeon needs to freshen this team quickly before it hosts Ohio State Feb. 11. With six games remaining, including at Big Ten leader Wisconsin Feb. 19, Maryland has a chance at 24 wins and a No. 4 or 5 seed in March Madness.
Knocked down, it's now time to see what the Terps can really do.