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Turgeon pushing Maryland to get little things right, says wins will follow

There are times when coach Mark Turgeon is a portrait of anguish on the Maryland sideline. He'll stamp his feet. He'll crouch in front of the bench and lower his head between his legs. He'll gaze up at the rafters, as if searching for inspiration.

Fans might imagine that Turgeon's suffering is directly tied to losing games, but it's more complicated than that.

Strange as may seem, Turgeon — the ultra-competitive former Kansas point guard who once said, "I'd fight anybody that got in my way" — says winning should not be dominating his thoughts, nor those of his young, depth-challenged team. He said he learned years ago that victories should be a byproduct of playing the game properly.

"Actually, we never talk about winning, to be honest with you," said Turgeon, whose 4-3 Terps play Mount St. Mary's on Wednesday in the first of a six-game homestand at Comcast Center. "We talk about getting better, preparing, and, if you play well, good things are going to happen."

Turgeon, who replaced the retired Gary Williams in the offseason, said he tries to curb talk of wins and losses because it can divert his team's focus from the integral parts of the game — boxing out, running plays crisply — that he calls "the little things."

"Winning comes up more than I want it to come up, especially among the players and assistant coaches," Turgeon said. "My whole thing is if you do the things you're supposed to do, everything will take care of itself. When I was a young coach, I talked more about winning and losing, and I realized that wasn't the way to do it."

It's when his team fails to perform basketball fundamentals — when a player goes "brain dead," as he says forward Ashton Pankey did recently — that the coach begins to look miserable on the sideline, like a man in need of a hug.

Each time his team commits an error, it's as if he's received a tiny paper cut. By the end of a sloppy game — such as the 26-turnover loss to Iona on Nov. 20 in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off — he's walking wounded.

After the 89-63 Iona loss, the coach was asked which of the following basketball sins bothered him most — turnovers, rushed shots, not getting back of defense?

"Go on," Turgeon said, inviting the reporter to list additional failings. He then described a few more flaws and said they all disturbed him.

Undersized as a player, Turgeon, 46, possesses a feistiness often associated with smaller players in a big man's game. He says his attention to detail was fostered by Larry Brown, his Kansas coach and one of his mentors.

Brown "was a perfectionist," Turgeon said. "He'd say he wasn't. But he'd never stop teaching. If a kid was one-inch out of place, he'd tell him."

Turgeon also inherited from Brown and others the idea of trying to appear cool during games.

"I'll sit down most of the game — maybe (from) watching Roy Williams and Larry Brown. It's kind of what I do. I think I'm calm on the outside," he said.

The paradox is that Turgeon is often roiling on the inside, and sometimes he simply can't hide it.

And, of course, he wants to win as much as anybody. He arrived at Maryland with a 250-159 record in 13 seasons coaching Jacksonville State, Wichita State and Texas A&M. He said it's particularly important for the Terps to win at Comcast Center, where they are 2-1 so far. "To be a successful program, we have to be good at home," he said.

Center Berend Weijs said the message he gets from his coach is: "If we play his way — if you do exactly what he says — you will get wins out of it."

Turgeon's strategy of not talking about winning and losing is akin to his method for trying to improve Maryland's foul shooting. The Terps entered Sunday's game against Notre Dame shooting 59.4 percent on free throws.

Rather than harp on the problem in practice and make it more of an issue, Turgeon was silent. Maryland improved to 71.4 percent from the line in the 78-71 win over the Irish.

If they keep doing things right, the Terps may yet save their coach's psyche.

"I'm not a basket case yet," Turgeon said.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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