COLLEGE PARK — Last season, Mark Turgeon had kidney stones. This year, the Maryland coach is suffering through their metaphorical equivalent — turnovers.
Playing against a tiny, overmatched Monmouth team, the Terps committed a season-high 23 turnovers but elevated their play significantly in the second half to secure their ninth straight victory, 71-38, before an announced 9,265 at Comcast Center on Wednesday night.
It's Maryland's longest winning streak since 2002.
It was the fewest points scored against the Terps and their largest victory margin this season. The Hawks scored 17 points in the second half and shot 20.6 percent overall.
But it was hard for Turgeon to get past a first half in which Maryland had 14 turnovers and its four highly regarded freshmen played poorly — or not at all. The coach's hangdog demeanor almost made it appear the Terps had lost.
“I think the problem is everybody is telling these guys how good they are. And they're listening, instead of listening to me,” Turgeon said of freshmen Shaquille Cleare, Jake Layman, Seth Allen and Charles Mitchell.
Allen had seven turnovers. Turgeon said he did not play Layman in the first half because the forward did not keep up with his studies.
“Jake did not take care of his academics, simple as that,” the coach said.
Sophomore Dez Wells, a sophomore team leader, said of the freshmen: “We have to demand more from them, we have to stay on them, we just have to guide them. From high school they're probably used to just dominating, doing what they want.”
The Terps led 31-21 at the half against a Monmouth team coming off a 52-point loss to Syracuse. Monmouth's starting five looked liliputian, giving up an average of five inches to Maryland's starters.
“They played harder, they played tougher,” Turgeon said of Monmouth in the first half. “ Probably the worst half of basketball one of my teams have played, maybe ever. We just weren't ready. That's what it comes down to.”
At halftime, Wells said, “Coach kicked [butt] in the locker room.'
The Terps were led by Nick Faust (16 points) and Alex Len (14 points, 10 rebounds). Khalil Browne scored 10 points to lead Monmouth.
The Terps hit their first seven shots of the game before Faust missed one. All seven of Maryland's initial field goals were converted in the paint. The Terps weren't shooting well from the outside — 6 for 19 on 3-pointers overall — but they didn't need to because they were having their way inside.
“Knowing Turgeon like I do, I told our guys: ‘He's going to go inside to start the game,' ” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “And that's what he did.”
But Maryland's inside dominance didn't appease Turgeon, the perfectionist coach.
Maryland entered ranked last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in turnover margin (minus-4.56) and were committing an average of 15 per game.
Turnovers are a pet peeve of Turgeon's. The coach has been hoping that the Terps — in the midst of a six-game, nonconference homestand — can smooth out their offense before ACC play begins against Virginia Tech on Jan. 5.
But there was Faust committing four turnovers in the first half. With the Terps leading 25-16, his errant pass led to a layup by Monmouth guard Dion Nesmith to trim the lead to seven.
Turgeon shuffled his lineup to open the second half, starting former walk-on John Auslander and sitting down senior forward James Padgett.
“I didn't have any big guys playing worth anything,” Turgeon said when asked about the switch.
But, led by Len, Maryland pulled away. A putback and a dunk by Len on consecutive possessions upped Maryland's lead to 41-25.
A dunk by Wells on a lob pass from Faust pushed the margin to 50-29.
Maryland's previous high for turnovers this season was 20 against Morehead State.
“To me, it [the 23 turnovers] was more mental than anything,” Turgeon said, circling his finger around his head to illustrate the point.