Welcome back to Morning Shootaround, a regular feature this season the day after Maryland basketball games. We will recap what was said in the news conference afterward by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his players. We will give some of our own insight into what transpired on the court during the previous day’s game and what the Terps will be working on at practice looking ahead to their next game.
As Maryland was about to fall behind by nine points midway through the second half, a fan sitting behind press row yelled sarcastically at Turgeon, “Let’s see what you got, Coach.” Another chimed in, “What would Gary do?”
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They were probably too far away for Turgeon to hear, but I’m sure he was getting the same treatment from fans sitting behind the bench who were within earshot. It has happened before this season – more than Turgeon has probably let on.
Turgeon got emotional after his team’s first win over Duke, saying that his family had heard some of the verbal shots when the Terps lost the previous game at home to Virginia. When Maryland beat Duke in the ACC tournament, he made a passing remark about quieting the fans.
There were fewer fans in attendance for the game against Denver (3,982) than there had been for the game against Niagara in the opening round Tuesday night, but Turgeon reacted as if his team had just beaten Duke.
“Yeowwww,” Turgeon said as he walked through the tunnel and shook hands vigorously with athletic director Kevin Anderson.
I know it’s just the NIT, and there are plenty of fans who feel, with some merit, that Maryland not making the NCAA tournament in a season when the ACC received only four bids was a letdown after the preseason hype and the 13-1 start.
But Turgeon showed his coaching chops by keeping a future NBA lottery pick on the bench during the team’s game-closing 25-4 run and going to a five-guard lineup. And he showed how passionate he is – like his predecessor – in the way he reacted to his team’s season-prolonging comeback win.
And to answer a question from the two guys in the stands: they might have forgotten that in Williams’ last two NIT appearances, the Terps bombed out in the first round against Manhattan at home and then lost at Syracuse in the second round.
5-GUARD LINEUP PROVES DECISIVE
Turgeon said he has never used five guards at one time since his days coaching the junior varsity team at Kansas back in the late 80s. “My power forward was 6-2 and he was my center,” Turgeon said.
But when Jake Layman picked up his fourth personal with 8:53 to go and Maryland down nine, 48-39, Turgeon had no choice. Alex Len, who was on the bench nursing four fouls, looked silly in the first half and early in the second trying to guard Chris Udofia.
So the Terps essentially became a pretty talented AAU team for the last nine minutes, led by sophomore swingman Dez Wells and freshman guard Seth Allen.
“We were desperate. We couldn’t guard them. They had complete control of the game,” Turgeon said. “We couldn’t score. Our post guys couldn’t score against them, so let’s just spread them out and try to get to the foul line. That’s why we did it. There was no tomorrow, now there is.”
Said sophomore guard Nick Faust: “Coach definitely thinks we got more mature, doing all the little things. Guys are more mature and looking at the bigger picture.”
Wells’ ability to get to the rim, both off the dribble and by posting up, forced the Pioneers to double-team him, and that opened the floor for everyone else, Allen in particular. The players said it reminded them of their free-wheeling days of AAU ball.
“That’s what I thought. That’s what was really going through my mind when he put up five [guards],” said Allen, whose driving layup with 4:12 remaining (and two seconds left on the 35-second clock) gave the Terps a 51-50 lead. “I thought, ‘Man this is like my AAU days when it’s just up-and-down and guarding.”
I asked Wells if he thought Turgeon would put this lineup in his playbook going forward, maybe even next season.
“If he doesn’t, we’ll remind him,” Wells said.
TERPS GROWING UP
Turgeon said the discipline the Terps showed basically without any set plays was impressive for a young team.
“We couldn’t have done that six weeks ago, there’s no way,” Turgeon said. “We couldn’t have adjusted and done the things that we did. We made very few mistakes defensively down the stretch. That’s hard to guard.”
It was also difficult for Turgeon to give his players that much freedom. But Turgeon has seen a growth spurt in terms of his team’s collective IQ the past few weeks, starting right before the ACC tournament.
“What we did is play with poise. Normally when I give them that kind of freedom they go crazy on me. They’ve done that all year,” Turgeon said. “The last three weeks, four weeks, they haven't. Give the guys credit, they knew Dez had a mismatch. The guys played smart. They’re getting it. Guys just want to win. Winning is more important than individual things.”
LEN’S A SPECTATOR
The 7-foot-1 sophomore picked up his fourth foul with 12:46 left in the game and never returned. I thought there was a chance Turgeon would put him back in once Maryland got the lead and were having its own foul troubles, but the coach “went with what your gut told you.”
That was to leave the five guards – and occasionally Layman – in the game. Len said watching things unfold “was a lot of fun, five guys cutting and moving,” but knows that things should change in the quarterfinals.
For Maryland to win the NIT, given the competition Turgeon’s team will face next week in the quarterfinals and possibly in New York the first week of April, Len is going to have to play closer to a lottery pick.
Maryland (24-12) will play the winner of Saturday’s game between Alabama (22-12) and Stanford (19-9) in Tuscaloosa. It seems likely for the Terps to be playing the Crimson Tide, which hasn’t lost at home since Dec. 30. The Cardinal, coached by former Duke star and longtime assistant Johnny Dawkins, have won four of its past four road games. If Stanford wins, the quarterfinals will be at Comcast Center on Tuesday night. Otherwise, the game will be at Alabama on Tuesday.