Before his team began the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of its schedule earlier this month, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon begrudgingly acknowledged that the first three games could be pivotal for the Terps since the first two would be played at Comcast Center.
What started well for Maryland — a 23-point win over Virginia Tech in College Park on Jan. 5 — has imploded since the second half of last Wednesday's game at home against Florida State. The Terps blew a double-digit first half to the Seminoles in a 65-62 loss.
It was followed by Sunday's 54-47 road defeat at Miami.
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Now comes what could be an even more difficult four-game stretch for Maryland (13-3, 1-2 in the ACC).
It starts at home Wednesday night against No. 14 North Carolina State (14-2, 3-0), and will be followed by road games at North Carolina on Saturday and No. 3 Duke (Jan. 26) sandwiched around a home game against Boston College (Jan. 22).
"We've got to get ready for a really good team Wednesday and another one Saturday," Turgeon said Monday on the ACC coaches' teleconference. "We played hard [Sunday] night; we just didn't play well all the times. Give Miami credit, their defense was good. We're looking forward to this week."
Turgeon said that his biggest concerns in terms of position are point guard and power forward, and disclosed that he is considering another change in the backcourt. After benching junior Pe'Shon Howard for freshman Seth Allen against the Hurricanes, the Terps might turn to sophomore Nick Faust (City).
As for power forward, Turgeon went back to senior James Padgett after freshman Shaquille Cleare, who he planned to start against Miami, was limited because of recurring back spasms. Freshman Charles Mitchell was benched at the start of the game for discliplinary reasons.
"It's not going to change overnight. It did change overnight from good to not-so-good," Turgeon said of his situation at the point. "We're addressing it; we addressed that for the last game. We're trying to figure it out.
"I do think Pe'Shon is capable of playing better than he is playing. Seth the same way. Seth is going to have to score for us and that puts a lot of pressure on him. Our point guard play hasn't been good enough. It's been obvious our last couple of games."
Howard, who didn't start for the first time this season, failed to hit a field goal attempt for the third straight game. He was 0-for-5 against the Hurricanes, and is 0-for-13 in the past three games, including nine straight missed 3-point shots.
Allen, one of the few Maryland players who could score in the second half against Florida State before having his last second, ill-advised 3-point shot blocked, went 2-for-8 from the field and scored four points at Miami.
The two point guards had only one assist each against the Hurricanes, who are now 3-0. Despite not having played the position since middle school, Faust played the point last season as a freshman as Howard missed much of the year with injuries.
Turgeon was quick to add that it's not just the sloppy point guard that has caused his team's recent slide.
"There's a lot of areas that haven't been good enough the past couple of games," he said. "That's why you're 0-2 in those games."
But the normally glass-is-a-quarter-full Turgeon was uncharacteristically upbeat about his team after the second-lowest scoring performance since he took over at Maryland.
"I thought we played hard [Sunday] night — really hard," Turgeon said. "We never quit. We rebounded pretty well (41-37 in favor of Maryland). I thought we competed on the road against a good team. We came up short."
Considering how lousy the Terps were at times on the road last season — including a second-half meltdown that led to a 71-44 loss at Virginia, as well as defeats by 18 and 24 points at Duke and North Carolina, respectively — Turgeon called Sunday night's defeat "a step in the right direction."
The growing pains are not unexpected for a team that has six new players — four freshmen as well as transfers Dez Wells (18 points against the Hurricanes) and Logan Aronhalt.
"Our guys know how to play," Turgeon said. "We shouldn't have to make excuses. It's just a really tough part of our schedule. We let one get away at home [against Florida State last week]. We'll just take it one game at a time."
Asked if it's difficult to have his team regain its collective confidence, Turgeon said, "Obviously we're not as confident as we were getting into the league or after the Virginia Tech game [a 94-71 win on Jan. 5] or at halftime of the Florida State game [when the Terps led by nine].
"I don't think it's as bad as it may look the way we're shooting the basketball. There are a few guys who are not shooting the ball well and are not playing with confidence. We've got to get it figured out. Some of it is shot selection, some of it execution, decision-making. We'll be fine. Kids bounce back."
Turgeon said that he has seen that happen in the course of a game.
"Kids can lose confidence going into timeouts and get it back after the timeout," he said.