Maryland 69, George Mason 62 @Verizon Center, Washington Sunday
Coming off its most impressive win of the season – and by far its best half – in Tuesday’s road win at Northwestern in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Maryland’s expectations (or at least the expectations surrounding the Terps) were certainly raised going into this game. Suddenly, a relatively close win over a good local program that has done far more in March than the Terps have the past few years is scrutinized than at any point during Mark Turgeon’s first 39 games in College Park.
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In the post-game press conference, Turgeon could quickly see where the questions were going about his team’s poor outside shooting, its 19 turnovers and some dismal free-throw shooting down the stretch that made what could have easily been a 15-point win suddenly become a two-possession game in the final minute.
Turgeon talked about how pleased he was with his team’s defense.
“The game didn’t go the way we wanted it to go today, but it’s going to help us. I can look across this [stat] sheet, we played 10 guys, every one of them defensively played well for us,” Turgeon said. “That’s comforting. That wasn’t the case 10 days ago. I know that every one of them have grown up defensively and are dialed in.”
End of discussion.
*** For longtime Maryland fans, the second half of Sunday’s game could have been an homage to former Terps star Keith Booth. As tough a competitor as Booth was, as skillful as he was in the low post and around the rim, the undersized power forward from Dunbar could not shoot from the outside with any consistency. I remember a three-week period his senior year when he led the ACC in scoring without hitting a single shot outside 10 feet.
Not that any of these current Terps have Booth’s low-post skills, though Dez Wells might be the best post-up guard in the ACC, and one of the best in the country. But Maryland managed to win a game without hitting an outside shot after Wells hit a 3 late in the first half. Everything came on drives, many by Wells, dunks (including a beautiful alley-oop from Pe’Shon Howard to Nick Faust) and free throws.
Turgeon had an interesting explanation for this.
“It didn’t show up a lot, but we tried to play through our post in the second half, because we did that they were doubling, when they did that we had space to drive,” Turgeon said.
But he admitted that his team’s 3-point shooting (2-for-11 Sunday, 30 of 98 for the season) and any kind of mid-range shooting game is not there.
“We’re not shooting the ball at the clip we need to be shooting the ball to be a great team,” Turgeon said after his team shot 22 of 49 overall. “Besides turnovers, that’s the next component. We have guys who can shoot it.
“We’re just not shooting the ball well. We talked about driving the ball more and we did that. Each game is different. As a coach, you figure out a way to win. If you don’t make jump shots, you’d better get to the foul line. We didn’t make them. But we’ll make them as the season goes on.”
Maryland is going to have to show it can make jump shots in order to keep teams off of Alex Len. I know that Turgeon wants Howard to shoot the ball more, but the junior point guard will have to make some too along the way or else opposing teams are going to give help on Len inside or even on Wells if they figure Howard is not a factor offensively.
Howard, who leads the ACC in assists, did a nice job getting the ball to the basket (six assists) and hitting the boards (seven rebounds) but has to present more of a threat shooting. The way Maryland rebounds, even his misses could turn into quasi-assists.
*** I know that many, including me, have been critical of Faust, but the sophomore guard from City finally seems to be getting the message Turgeon has been drumming into him since the preseason. Early on, it seemed as if Faust thought he was going to be Maryland’s first scoring option, or at worst the team’s second behind Len.
Right now, Faust appears comfortable playing off Wells and feeding Len when the opportunity presents. His shot is still not there – he was 3-for-10 Sunday and is now 23 of 64 for the season – but Faust is using his passing skills (four assists against George Mason and two or three other passes that resulted in free throws), getting to the free throw line (7 of 10) and rebounding (5, including 3 on the offensive boards) to be a terrific complementary player.
That might not be the role Faust envisioned this season after Terrell Stoglin left, but Faust continues to show his new-found maturity (which was first evident after he had a one-hour shooting session immediately after a bad night against LIU-Brooklyn) by saying after Sunday’s game, “I’m trying to do whatever I can to make my teammates better, just trying to make the right plays.”
Turgeon said that he is happy with the way Faust has changed his mindset recently.
“Nick’s not caught up in scoring right now, he’s caught up in winning. It took a long time,” Turgeon said. “We’re finally there.”
*** One thing that surprised me about Sunday’s game was the lack of production by Maryland’s bench. You had come to expect the Terps’ reserves to outscore and outplay their opponents, but Maryland got little from the second team aside from freshman forward Charles Mitchell (four points, six rebounds in 19 minutes). Conversely, freshman guard Patrick Holloway scored 17 in 33 minutes off the bench for the Patriots.
Freshman center Shaquille Cleare, who had made terrific strides lately, would have zeroes across his stat line except for the three fouls he committed in seven minutes. Senior guard Logan Aronhalt, coming off hitting 7 of 9 on 3s the past two games, played only three minutes and didn’t take a shot. Freshman guard Seth Allen had good and bad moments in 16 minutes.
The one freshman Turgeon is still waiting for to produce in Jake Layman. The freshman forward got ample opportunity (14 minutes) and looked good on a couple of defensive rebounds, but he missed a pair of 3s (one badly) and continues to have the deer-in-headlights look on the offensive end. I actually thought Layman would have the quickest transition to college after playing on the U-19 national team this summer. Not quite sure what is going on there.
LOOKING AHEAD: This should be the last really competitive game Maryland (6-1) has until the ACC season begins in a little over a month – perhaps only the game against Stony Brook could be reasonably close. It will also be the last time the Terps play on anything but a laptop near you since the rest of the December schedule will be relegated to ESPN3.
This is often a challenging time for coaches as the non-conference schedules thins out with a break for final exams. The Terps play two games this week against MEAC teams, Maryland-Eastern Shore (0-7) and Delaware State (4-5 after breaking a 5-game losing streak against UMES). Not quite sure those teams will bring the fans out as Maryland’s students gear up for exams.