Welcome back to Morning Shootaround, a regular feature this season the day after Maryland basketball games. While we can’t bring you into the Terps’ locker room after games – reporters haven’t been allowed in there since the last couple of years under Gary Williams – we will recap what was said in the press conference afterward by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his players. We will give some of our own insight into what transpired on the court during the previous day’s game and what the Terps will be working on at practice looking ahead to their next game.
North Carolina 62, Maryland 52 @ Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C. Saturday
Mark Turgeon often compares coaching his young team to being the parent of young children, considering the skills the second-year Maryland coach needs to navigate his Terps through rough patches in what has the most difficult stretch of the schedule this season. His team’s performance at the Dean Dome demonstrates how Turgeon has to find a balance, as he does in parenting his own kids, between criticizing a horrendous first half and finding a silver lining in a more respectable second half.
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“We competed to the end in the second half,” he said.
Turgeon was clearly upset with Maryland’s lack of focus at the start of the game, when North Carolina opened with an 8-0 run as the Terps committing five straight turnovers after Shaquille Cleare missed a shot on the opening possession. He was also not too happy with the end of the first half, when the Tar Heels scored the last nine points to take a 42-20 halftime lead – with half of the home team’s points coming from junior Reggie Bullock.
“The last three minutes we were as bad as you could be,” Turgeon said.
Along with the turnover problems – the Terps had 15 in the first half, 21 in the game – Maryland’s inability to make 3-point shots has hurt the team. The Terps were 1-for-12 against the Tar Heels, including a combined 0-for-8 by the team’s best outside shooters, freshman Seth Allen (0-for-5) and senior Logan Aronhalt (0-for-3). Maryland is a combined seven of 45 in its past three games.
“It’s a long season. You have ups and downs shooting the ball, “ Turgeon said. “We’ve got good shooters missing right now. When it’s hard to get a good look, you rush it. When you rush it you usually don’t make it.”
But as Turgeon was already looking ahead to Tuesday’s game against Boston College at home, he knew he had to pick out some of the positives on which the Terps could build: sophomore swingman Dez Wells slicing through the Tar Heels for 21 points as well as shutting down Bullock [three points on 1-for-6 shooting] in the second half, freshman Charles Mitchell taking over for a foul-plagued Cleare and getting 11 rebounds to along with nine points, holding the Tar Heels to 8-for-34 shooting after halftime.
Instead of just looking back on what transpired on Maryland’s first trip to Tobacco Road this season -- with its next one looming Saturday at Duke -- we will look at some of the things Turgeon might consider doing to get his team out of its offensive funk (three straight games with 55 points or fewer, the first time that has happened at Maryland since 1981-82) and be more consisent in the second half of the ACC season when the schedule is a little more favorable.
3 POINT SHOTS
Shorten the rotation
Maryland’s depth and the productivity of its bench has been a strength all season, but it has also been a distraction to Turgeon’s coaching. I thought he did a better job last season when he had fewer options – basically six or seven instead of the nine of 10 he has had for most of this year. It certainly helped in his team’s two ACC wins, but the Terps would probably have won both had he used eight players rather than 10.
I understand the hockey-style lineup changes when the group on the floor is playing poorly, as the starters did Saturday. I don’t understand them when the group is playing well, as the same starting lineup came out strong against N.C. State. As much as I agree with Turgeon’s assessment on how inconsistent most of his young guys are, two of his most experienced players are no more consistent and at times are huge liabilities.
Pe’Shon Howard had some good moments against N.C. State – a couple of baskets in the first half and solid defense on Scott Wood throughout – but the junior point guard had one of the worst stat lines against North Carolina I have ever seen covering college basketball. You would be hard-pressed to find a Division I point guard who ever had seven turnovers and no assists or points in a game, as Howard did in 14 minutes Saturday.
Senior forward James Padgett wasn’t as bad, but his lack of offensive productivity and his inability to get off the floor for defensive rebounds has been an issue for awhile. Padgett’s minutes have steadily decreased since Turgeon took him out of the starting lineup a couple of weeks ago – he played only six minutes against North Carolina. I think Turgeon will likely continue to go with Mitchell and Cleare. I’m not saying to use Alex Len for 35 minutes a game, but the three of them could easily split the 80 if they can stay out of foul trouble.
Make Dez the focal point
From the start of practice, Turgeon has talked about how most of the team has followed the lead of Wells. You could also see from the start of the season that the 6-5 transfer is Maryland’s most skilled player – and the toughest. While Wells has been a bit out of control in a few games recently and has to do a better job taking care of the ball, he is the only player Turgeon has that other teams have a difficult time trying to stop.
Wells has spent most of his first season in College Park trying to fit in. He has heard Turgeon preach to the Terps about getting the ball inside to Len. But unless the Maryland guards can do a better job getting the ball inside to the 7-1 center – how many times have you seen them start to pass and realize that the defense has shifted around Len? – I think Turgeon’s best option is to put the ball more in Wells’ hands.
You saw that a little Saturday, where it appeared as if Wells was actually running the point on a couple of plays. Though it produced mixed results – with Wells driving for a layup on one possession, then bouncing the ball out of bounds on another possession despite no Tar Heels within three feet of him – he can either score or get the ball to Len and the other big men. Wells has proven on occasion that he can be a big scorer. It’s time to have him do that.
Turn your defense into offense
Turgeon used his press earlier this season for the first time he was hired to pick up the tempo against a non-conference opponent trying to slow things down. It worked pretty well, but the coach attributed it to the level of the competition rather than his team’s ability to press. He has been forced to use it more recently, in trying to come back in his last four ACC games.
It worked against Florida State. The Terps, who had blown a double-digit first half lead, were able to claw back before losing when Allen’s ill-advised late 3-pointer was blocked. It worked for a few possessions at Miami and then against North Carolina State. It helped make the final score a little more respectable against the Tar Heels on Saturday.
If the offense continues to struggle making shots, creating easy baskets off turnovers is something that Turgeon’s team needs to do. I’m not saying to press all the time – as the Maryland teams under Gary Williams seemed to do, even when he didn’t have the athletes to do it – but don’t just use it as an act of desperation.
I think that if Maryland can create something of a new defensive identity – which the Terps have started to do in halfcourt situations – it will take a lot of the pressure off players on the offensive end.
LOOKING AHEAD: With everyone on campus probably talking to them about playing Duke Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Maryland players might be looking past Boston College (9-8, 1-3 in the ACC) Tuesday night. The Terps aren’t good enough to do that with any team and the Eagles might not be as bad as their ACC record indicates. BC’s three league defeat are by a combined nine points, including a 60-59 loss to Miami on Jan. 16. That’s the last time BC played, meaning that Maryland (14-4, 2-3) will be playing a more rested team for the second straight game.