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Terps basketball has more than a 'Christmas' problem, as latest setback shows

COLLEGE PARK — The day before Maryland’s 83-77 loss Saturday to Boston University, junior wing Dez Wells told reporters that he and his teammates were "banned" from saying "the C-word” by their head coach, Mark Turgeon.

The word in question was Christmas.

I jokingly asked Wells whether Turgeon would prevent the Terps from celebrating Christmas if they lost to the Terriers.

“No, I don’t [think so], but winning is what I’m about, so once we get this win, I’m pretty sure he’ll be all smiles,” Wells said of his coach. “He’s going to try to keep a straight face, but I’m sure he won’t. He’s a pretty fun-loving guy.”

Turgeon wasn’t smiling after his team’s defeat to the Patriot League favorite Saturday.

While he didn’t channel his inner Barry Hinson in addressing his team’s deficiences, and even wished reporters “Happy holidays” before ending his postgame news conference, Turgeon was as depressed as I’ve seen him in his three seasons in College Park.

The C-word never crossed his lips, so here are some other words beginning with the letter "C" that might be applicable to Turgeon’s team:

Crisis: While I wouldn’t call Maryland’s latest loss catastrophic — Boston University is a good team, and there’s still plenty of season remaining for the Terps to resurrect their NCAA tournament chances — Maryland is clearly a team in crisis. Or at least it should be.

Losing two nonconference home games to unranked opponents, something Maryland hasn’t done in a season since 1988-89 (West Virginia and LSU in what was head coach Bob Wade’s last season), basically means the Terps have to be at least decent in the ACC to get a National Invitation Tournament bid.

A year ago, Maryland didn’t lose a nonconference home game playing against a less-than-competitive schedule. It’s no guarantee that the Terps will win their last two nonconference games, against Tulsa on Dec. 29 and against an even more competitive opponent in North Carolina Central on Dec. 31.

Cohesiveness: A dozen games into the 2013-14 season, the Terps don’t seem to be on the same page. Or in the same chapter. Or even in the same book at times.

By now, Maryland should have adjusted to playing without injured sophomore point guard Seth Allen, who broke his foot in practice a couple of weeks before the season began. With Allen a few weeks from returning, it seems they’ll also have to readjust when he gets back.

I still think freshman Roddy Peters should be Maryland’s starting point guard going forward, but he is still the kind of player who makes a breathtaking play on one possession and a head-scratching play the next. He can be a defensive force and liability in a matter of seconds.

As was the case in the Terps' home loss last month to Oregon State, the momentum seemed to shift away from Maryland when Turgeon pulled Peters in the second half. The defense played better without him, but the offense seemed to settle for jump shots.

Center: Along with the continued issues at point guard, a lack of production at center is a problem for the Terps. Sophomore Shaquille Cleare seemed to get off to a good start Saturday with two early dunks, then disappeared in what ended as a 12-minute, three-foul, three-rebound performance.

Charles Mitchell wasn’t much better as Maryland’s big man, finishing with three points, four rebounds and three fouls in 10 minutes, one of his shortest stints as a Terp. (He had not played fewer minutes since playing nine minutes against Virginia last February, 27 games ago.)

With Turgeon still not ready to play freshman Damonte Dodd more — the 6-foot-9 center from the Eastern Shore played two minutes, got fouled on a putback attempt and missed both subsequent free throws in a two-minute cameo Saturday — Maryland’s best option right now is Jonathan Graham (Calvert Hall).

The 6-8, 220-pound Graham might not have the strength of Cleare or the offensive potential of Mitchell, but he plays harder and more effectively than either does right now and could be a great stopgap until Turgeon feels ready to give Dodd more of a chance or until Cleare finally lives up to his potential.

Graham blocked two more shots in his 15-minute stint against Boston University, giving him him seven in 85 minutes this season, or one every 12.1 minutes. Compare that with Cleare's seven in 199 minutes and Mithchell's four in 225 minutes.

I know that Turgeon has a lot invested in Cleare, who works hard in practice and even outside of practice. But the Terps seem to be a better defensive team when Graham is on the floor, and unlike Cleare or Mitchell, he can make up for the defensive mistakes of others.

don.markus@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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