— In recent days, members of the Maryland men's basketball team have been absorbed with final exams, writing papers and — perhaps — allowing themselves to think ahead to holiday gifts and an upcoming break.
Their coach, Mark Turgeon, has been contemplating all the distractions that make this such a difficult time of year to coach.
It's not that Turgeon is some sort of holiday grinch. The coach is giving his players — who just completed eight days of finals — four days off around Christmas to recharge.
But Turgeon — who is naturally restless — can't help but look at the outcomes of other college basketball games lately and notice how frequently good teams are being threatened or upset.
It's a period in which it can be difficult to focus on the game, Turgeon said as the Terps (9-1), who have won nine games in a row — their longest streak since 2001-02 — prepared for Friday night's game against Stony Brook (8-2).
"It's hard for everybody over finals. That's my biggest concern going into [Friday's] game," Turgeon said . "It's a dysfunctional time, it's a hard time. You look at some of the scores around the country. Closer scores than they should be. It's got my attention."
Turgeon said his concerns are amplified because he has so many young players — including four prominent freshmen — still adjusting to the rigors of college basketball and course work.
"You've got long nights studying after long days of practice," junior point guard Pe'Shon Howard said.
It didn't help Turgeon's spirits when John Auslander, a backup Terps forward, suffered a left tibia fracture in a recent practice. He is to undergo surgery soon and will be out for the season, Turgeon said.
The junior played more last season than this one, particularly before center Alex Len became eligible 10 games into the year.
Auslander, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship, is Len's roommate and helped serve as the center's spokesman with the media as Len learned English.
This season, Auslander played in four games, averaging 1.3 points. He started the second half of the Monmouth game on Dec. 12 after Turgeon became frustrated with the play of his frontcourt starters.
Stony Brook, which has won five out of six away games, is off to its best start since entering Division I in 1999.
The Seawolves are led by senior forward Tommy Brenton (River Hill), a rugged rebounder who was first-team All-America East last season.
Turgeon is hoping Stony Brook piques his team's attention.
"The good thing for us is we're playing a good team," Turgeon said. "They're deep, they play a lot of guys. We need a game like this. We need Stony Brook."
Maryland has won its last three games by an average of 26.7 points. But the Terps, who open their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule against Virginia Tech on Jan. 5, have been plagued by turnovers.
"I'm disappointed we haven't improved at the rate I thought we would improve at," Turgeon said. "I know we're getting better. I just want us to be great yesterday, and that's just not happening."
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