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Terps' Nick Faust adjusting to his role running the offense

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After finishing his freshman season at Maryland, Nick Faust figured that he had a good chance to become one of the men's basketball team's leading scorers as a sophomore. With the departure last spring of Terrell Stoglin, the Atlantic Coast Conference's top scorer a year ago, it seemed only logical for Faust to make that step.

If his freshman year was a big transition for a player who had not played point guard since middle school and had been accustomed to always being a primary scoring option, Faust's sophomore year has been even more of an adjustment.

The former City star has seen his expected scoring role usurped by the late and somewhat unexpected arrival of sophomore transfer Dez Wells, who is often the first or second option along with sophomore center Alex Len. Wells has also often taken over as Maryland's main shutdown wing defender, a role Faust seemed to relish as a freshman.

What hasn't changed -- and what still contributes to Faust's lack of consistency and, perhaps, confidence -- is the way second-year Terps coach Mark Turgeon has shuttled him from shooting guard, his natural position, back to point guard as junior Pe'Shon Howard and freshman Seth Allen struggled to get a firm grip on that position.

"It takes time to get the hang of running a team," Faust said Saturday after practice at Comcast Center. "I'm doing whatever I can to make this transition and do whatever I can to stay positive and learn the game from the point guard perspective."

Despite Faust playing only 22 minutes and finishing with just four points, four assists and three turnovers in Thursday night's 60-55 win at Virginia Tech -- this after he played 21 minutes with five points, four assists and three turnovers in a 26-point win over Wake Forest -- Turgeon said Saturday that the 6-foot-6 guard will remain the starter.

Looking for its first three-game winning streak in more than a month, Maryland (17-6, 5-5 in the ACC) plays at home against Virginia (16-6, 6-3) today at 1 p.m. Turgeon sees the improvement Faust has made in the past few weeks as he and the Terps have become more efficient running their half-court offense.

"Since he's really slowed down, we've become a much better team," Turgeon said Saturday. "You think of the second half at Duke, the way he played and the way we played and how he's tried to play since. … I obviously have a lot of confidence in him or else I wouldn't be playing him, I wouldn't be starting him. Is he thinking too much? Nick's played one way his whole life, and now he's trying to play another way. Yeah, it's hard on him until he gets a little … but the way he was playing wasn't good for our team."

Exactly what Faust gives the Terps -- like many of his teammates, particularly the point guards -- seems to change from game to game. Faust's athleticism can be as jaw-dropping as his lack of good decision-making can be head-scratching.

Since Turgeon went to more of a "point guard by committee" approach five games ago, Faust has as many assists as turnovers (19) and has seen his scoring drop each game. He has scored in double figures just once in that stretch -- with 11 points against Boston College -- and has scored in double figures in conference games just twice. He missed a pair of crucial free throws in a two-point loss Jan. 30 at Florida State, but hit a pair to help seal the game against the Hokies.

Faust said he has to look at the game differently now than he did in high school.

"It's tough, I'm just trying to figure out when to attack, and things like that, but at the same time trying to get your teammates involved," Faust said. "It's tough making the transition, I definitely thought this year was going to be different. Now that I'm back at it, I have to make the best out of it."

Faust's numbers for the season are about the same now (8.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.9assists and 1.9 turnovers in 24.2 minutes) as they were when he was a freshman (8.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.5 turnovers in 27.3 minutes). Faust shot 37.4 percent from the field as a freshman, and he is shooting 36.3 percent this season.

It was toward the end of last season that Faust showed he could be a scorer, perhaps at the expense of his duties as the point guard. With Howard out after season-ending knee surgery, Faust averaged better than 13 points and shot a respectable 45percent from the field over the last nine games.

But the return of Howard and the arrival of Allen -- along with Faust's 36 turnovers to 21 assists to close last season -- led Turgeon to move Faust back to the wing. The coach said in late December that Faust would play point "only in an emergency, an injury or someone getting in foul trouble."

That plan was eventually was scuttled as Howard didn't take many shots and started turning the ball over, while Allen also remained prone to turnovers. Turgeon recalled a recent conversation with Faust shortly after he resumed playing point guard.

"'I don't mind the turnovers, I don't mind the missed shots as long as they're good shots, but I need to get you guarding better,'" Turgeon said he told Faust. "He's got to pick it up [defensively]. He needs to become an elite-level defender for us to be successful down the stretch."

Faust had a lot of the defensive responsibility Thursday night on Virginia Tech guard Erick Green, the leading scorer in the country, and did a good job limiting his touches to mostly long jump shots when the Hokies ran their half-court sets. But Faust concedes that when he is not assigned to guard a big scorer, he tends to relax on defense.

"It [guarding a big scorer] definitely helps you stay locked in," Faust said.

Former City coach Mike Daniel, who gave Faust "the green light" on offense, said his former star might be suffering from "the sophomore blues" and concedes that the way Faust has played the game in the past "might not fit in with what Coach Turgeon wants."

While Daniel understands Turgeon's decision to move Faust back to the point had more to do with the problems he had with the play of Howard and Allen, Daniel doesn't think his former star has completely adjusted to being back running the team.

"I have a lot of respect for Coach Turgeon, and I haven't talked with him about it, but I don't know if it's a great move for Nick. He doesn't seem to be comfortable out there from me seeing him on television," Daniel said. "I'm not the only one who's mentioned this."

Faust insists that he is having fun and that it's just a matter of time for him to get immersed in being a point guard.

"I have to just keep myself humble and keep myself attuned to the game," Faust said. "Just know that making the extra pass or getting the assist is a way of scoring. Definitely staying positive and keep doing whatever coach wants and doing the right thing for the team to get the win. … I just want to defend really well and be a solid point guard and run the team. That's all I'm looking for."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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