More than a month after looking overwhelmed in a much-worse-than-it-seemed 16-point loss at Ohio State, Maryland will go on the road Monday night having seemingly matured as a college basketball team.
While Pittsburgh (14-1 overall, 1-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference) is not nearly as highly regarded as the then-No. 5 Buckeyes, the raucous Petersen Events Center should be as tough of a road environment as the Terps will face in the conference this season. The Panthers have won 11 straight and 15 of their last 16 at home.
Buoyed by his team's three-game winning streak, and in particular its performance in Saturday's 77-61 home victory over Georgia Tech, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon believes the Terps will react a lot better to their third true road game than to their first — they also beat Boston College, 88-80, on the road Dec. 12 to open ACC play.
"We've been on the road a lot, even [a] neutral court to me is on the road, " Turgeon said after practice Sunday at Comcast Center. "I know it's not the same. This place is pretty special where we're going. I heard it's sold out, which is great. I'd like to think we'll be able to handle it.
"We finished the season last year a pretty good road team [beating Alabama in the National Invitation Tournament]. I know we're not last year's team, but we're starting to play better. We're handling the ball better, we're guarding better. I think we're ready. I know we won't roll over like we did [at Ohio State]."
In getting off to its first 2-0 start in the ACC since 2002-2003, Maryland (10-5) looked like a completely different team than it had for most of the season. The Terps committed a season-low six turnovers and had 16 assists. They finished 10 of 19 on 3-point shots, and held Georgia Tech to 38.3 percent shooting.
Maryland executed efficiently by going inside-out, and the Terps seemed to make good decisions with their shot selection, as well as their passing. Two players who have been prone to take quick shots, junior guard Nick Faust and sophomore guard Seth Allen, were particularly patient.
Despite hitting three straight 3-pointers, Faust passed up a wide-open 3-pointer from the right wing on what turned out to be the final possession of the first half because too much time was still left on the clock. Though the Terps didn't score, they better managed what had become a 14-point lead.
Later in the game, with Georgia Tech cutting what became a 20-point lead for Maryland to 12, Allen had a wide-open 3-pointer from the right wing. But instead of settling for a jumper despite still not being at full strength after missing the first two months with a broken foot, Allen drove and scored.
"I think everybody's decision-making is way better," Allen said Sunday. "Everybody is making better team decisions. Everybody is playing to win, nobody is playing for themselves. … As [assistant] coach Bino [Ranson] says, 'There's enough pie to go around for everybody.'"
It has been nearly a three-year struggle for Turgeon to finally get his team to react that way.
"All you can do is watch film and harp on them and scream at them every day about decision-making. At some point, they've got to make them," Turgeon said. "If I've said it once, I've said it 100 times, 'I can't sit over there and make every decision for you. You've got to make them, you've got to make better ones.' "
Turgeon said several times in the past week that Allen's return has not only added depth but also confidence and trust.
"I think it's a confidence thing, I think it's being more relaxed with more players around them," Turgeon said. "Hopefuly it continues. We've done different drills where they have to make decisions and they've gotten better at that. We had them running the steps for turnovers."
Looking toward the sharp bank of seats where a lot of the students sit for games, Turgeon said with a wry smile: "It's pretty steep over there. Maybe that helps."
Sophomore forward Charles Mitchell, who has chugged his 260-pound body up and down those steps a few times, said Sunday: "I think control and poise is always a great way to play. Starting inside-out is always good. Once you establish an inside game, that opens up a lot of outside shots for our guards."
Junior forward Evan Smotrycz has tried to get his teammates to play more under control and saw Saturday's performance as a big step. It was the fewest number of turnovers the Terps have committed under Turgeon, the most mistake-free performance for Maryland since the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament.
"It's definitely the way we should play," Smotrycz said Saturday. "If we can keep the turnovers under 10, we'll definitely be tough to beat. We're beating teams with [committing] turnovers in the 20s and teens. If we can get more chances at the bucket, we'll be tough to stop."
Sophomore center Shaquille Cleare said: "We're tired of being that team that comes out slow and sloppy all the time. We're maturing right now, and we're continuing to grow. I think the guys have to stay humble, stay positive and listen to the coaches, and we're going to have a great season."