COLLEGE PARK — There have been many times when Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon has gone home after a game and told his wife Ann that he couldn’t figure out his team.
If the Terps can keep playing as they did for most of Saturday’s 77-61 blowout of Georgia Tech at Comcast Center, their opposition in the ACC might start saying the same thing.
In winning its third straight game and starting 2-0 in the ACC for the first time since 2002-2003, Maryland (10-5) had one of its best overall performances since Turgeon arrived.
Led by junior guard Nick Faust (City), who finished with 16 points, the Terps had five players in double figures, committed a season-low six turnovers and held Georgia Tech (9-5, 0-1 in the ACC) to 38.3 percent shooting.
“I think we were really efficient,” said junior forward Evan Smotrycz, who scored 14 points. “I think going inside early was a part of that. We were able to score at the rim and with the shooters we have, teams are going collapse and we’re going to knock shots down.”
Hitting seven of their first nine shots, the Terps built a double-digit lead in a little more than three minutes, led by 14 points at halftime and by as many 20 early in the second half.
Faust hit his first four shots, all 3-pointers, and wound up 6 of 8 from the field (4 of 6 on 3-pointers), while Maryland made 10 of 19 on 3-pointers overall.
The Terps also had 16 assists — five by freshman point guard Roddy Peters. They committed their fewest turnovers since they also had six in losing to Michigan State in the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament, Maryland's last NCAA tournament appearance.
“It’s a fight every day to get guys to pass the ball,” Turgeon said. “We had a really good practice [Friday], we really shared the ball, we executed, guys were having a lot of fun, and it carried over. I think it’s the way we started, playing inside-out.”
Starting with an old-school hook shot by sophomore center Shaquille Cleare, the Terps were able to draw Georgia Tech’s defense off their shooters. Maryland’s much-maligned sophomore post players, Cleare and Charles Mitchell, combined for 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Asked how hitting his first shot helped him, Cleare said, “The first shot was big for the team. We needed to get the team going fast and get the fans in the game. The coaches told me to be aggressive off the get-go. I had an opportunity to take it straight to them.”
Cleare did the same thing in the second half, hitting a high-banking turnaround in the lane over Georgia Tech senior center Daniel Miller and getting fouled. The 6-11, 275-pound Miller finished with just seven points and four rebounds.
Turgeon said the Terps took advantage of the absence of Yellow Jackets power forward Robert Carter, who tore his meniscus last week and will undergo surgery this week. Mitchell finished with 11 rebounds for Maryland and helped keep Georgia Tech off the offensive boards.
“Our whole thing once Carter got hurt, we were going to send four post players at their two post players and just try to bang on them,” Turgeon said. “I thought Charles played hard defensively. I thought Shaq played hard defensively. Jon Graham always plays hard defensively.”
Maryland is also now 3-0 since sophomore guard Seth Allen returned to the lineup after missing the first two months with a broken left foot. While Allen is still a bit rusty — he finished with 10 points in 20 minutes on 3 of 8 shooting — his presence has taken pressure off several players.
Where many believed Allen’s return would mean fewer minutes and shots for Faust, the opposite has transpired. Faust has thrived the past three games, and with improved mechanics in the release on his jump shot, Faust has averaged 16 points off the bench during that stretch.
Faust said the return of Allen has coincided with the general maturation of the team.
“I think it’s a combination of both — just growing as a team, we’re so multi-dimensional, we can just put in a lot of different players,” Faust said. “Having him back and us growing as a team is why we’re playing so well.”
Turgeon said that Allen’s return has given the Terps much-needed depth.
“You look at our minutes — 30, 22, 19, 24, 29, 15, 20, 26 and 15 — it’s a pretty deep basketball team right there,” Turgeon said. “We’re comfortable with all nine of them who played. We have a quick turnaround [before Monday night at Pittsburgh], so it’s good that guys didn’t have to play a lot of minutes.”
Told that his team looks different the past few games, Turgeon said, “It does look like a different team, it feels different. It’s fun. I tell my wife all the time when I come home, it just doesn’t feel right. Nothing’s felt right all year.
“And then all of a sudden, you add a little sophomore guard, Seth Allen, he’s still not 100 percent [but] he makes a huge difference. We knew what we were like before we got hurt, so our guys knew when he came back it just gave us instant confidence.”
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