Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Mark Turgeon’s team had just recorded a win over a ranked team on Wednesday night, and yet the coach seemed disconsolate. What was up?
Jeff Barker: It’s hard to know where to begin. The coach made the point -- emphatically -- that Turgeon teams are adept at winning close games. They historically execute plays at the end.
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But this team? Not so much. At least not yet. Yes, Maryland beat N.C. State, 51-50. It was a big and dramatic win -- a confidence-builder for a team that needed one. It certainly jazzed up the fan base.
But it wasn’t exactly the finish that Turgeon scripted. He said Alex Len was to set a high screen for a shooter -- apparently Logan Aronhalt. The way it unfolded, Pe’Shon Howard forced up a shot that Len grabbed out of the air and put back into the basket.
Turgeon was no doubt thrilled for his team. But the play was also evidence that his players aren’t quite in command of what the coach is trying to execute. They’re either not always listening or simply not processing his edicts.
The game seemed to put Turgeon in the unusual position of being delighted and frustrated at the same time.
The coach said that Len -- who was tough down the stretch at keeping offensive rebounds alive -- looked a little lost when he was shifted to the 4 so that Shaquille Cleare could play center.
Turgeon said he was compelled to go to his veteran players at the game’s end because he still doesn’t quite trust his freshmen to execute plays in crunch time.
The coach’s biggest worry seems to be his team’s ball handling. Turgeon, a former point guard, can’t help but harp on this. If he obsesses on a single statistic, it’s probably assist-to-turnover ratio.
Last season, Maryland had 339 assists and 425 turnovers, a ratio of 0.8 that put the Terps in a four-way tie for last in the ACC. They’re better this year -- 1.1.
But against N.C. State, the Terps had more turnovers than assists (13 to 10). It was worse in the preceding game against Miami (four to 15).
Maryland has played Howard at the point, as well as Seth Allen. On Wednesday night, Turgeon tried Nick Faust.
The Terps need one guy to take over that role. Steve Blake, are you available?
Maryland has now been in three close games with a shot to either win or tie the game and have failed to execute the play Mark Turgeon called. Even though the Terps won Wednesday over No. 14 North Carolina State, is that a concern going forward?
Don Markus: It’s not just end-of-game situations. Turgeon said after the win over the Wolfpack that his team had not run a single play correctly coming out of timeouts and were lucky that Alex Len was in the right spot to put back Pe’Shon Howard’s baseline airball with under a second remaining.
Not that a lot of games typically come down to a final possession. But Maryland has now taken three bad shot in those situations -- Howard’s forced 3-pointer over a flying defender against Kentucky, Seth Allen’s blocked 3-pointer with a wide-open Len rolling to the basket against Florida State last week and now Howard’s shot this week.
It was interesting talking with some of the players after the win over the Wolfpack about that last possession.
Len said the play was supposed to be a high screen and a pass to senior Logan Aronhalt for what would have likely been a wide-open 3 since he was probably the player N.C. State was going to sacrifice in order to double-team Len.
Allen said it was supposed to be “some sort of lob to Alex."
Howard did not come into the press room, but on tape it looks like Allen picked up his dribble and gave the ball to Howard in something of a panic move. As badly as it would have looked if Howard’s shot was blocked too -- and it came close, which is why Len was so open underneath -- I’m not sure Aronhalt was a great option for two reasons.
One, the Terps just needed a two-point basket or even a two-shot foul to have a chance to win. Also, after a hot stretch earlier in the season, the team’s designated 3-point shooter has cooled off considerably in ACC play. I am not sure why Dez Wells was throwing the ball inbounds and was essentially out of the play.
Running end-of-game plays or even end-of-clock situations is usually more a crapshoot with college players than an art form. But the way the Terps are playing right now -- either trying to keep the score low or doing that by missing a lot of shots at their end and keeping the other team out of sync with great defense -- will lend itself to more of them, possibly Saturday at North Carolina.
Somehow Turgeon will have to get his team to figure out what the heck he is telling them during the previous timeout.
The Maryland football team will welcome three early enrollees to campus next week. What can we expect from them?
Matt Bracken: The Terps will officially unveil their 2013 football recruiting class Feb. 6, with in-person introductions to wide receiver Deon Long, offensive lineman Silvano Altamirano and cornerback Will Likely available to fans and the media.
Altamirano, a two-star offensive guard from Mesa Community College in San Diego, should provide depth for a Maryland offensive line that loses Bennett Fulper and Justin Gilbert to graduation.
Likely, a four-star prospect from Belle Glade, Fla., is a slightly built cornerback at 5 feet 7, 172 pounds. But the future Terp is skilled enough to have earned the No. 199 overall ranking in Rivals.com’s Top 250. Maryland returns enough depth at cornerback (Dexter McDougle, Jeremiah Johnson, Isaac Goins, etc.) that it might not necessarily need to burn Likely’s redshirt. That will surely be determined in the spring and summer.
Long, meanwhile, has “future starter” written all over him. He rewrote the junior college record books at Iowa Western Community College this fall, catching 100 passes for 1,625 yards and 25 touchdowns. And even before then, Long proved himself on the Division I level by catching 47 passes for 809 yards and four touchdowns as a redshirt freshman at New Mexico.
I spoke to Long this week for our ongoing “Meet the Recruit” series on Tracking the Terps. In the six years I’ve done these pre-Signing Day Q&As, defensive end A.J. Francis stands out as the most entertaining/memorable Terps commitment (“I have a split personality,” he said. “I’m a nice guy when I’m off the field. … But when I’m playing, I do some of the meanest things you’ve ever seen in your life.”). Long is now a close second for most memorable interview. He may not be the Renaissance man/Twitter star that Francis turned out to be, but I have a feeling he’ll be a regularly quoted Terp during his two years in College Park.
In the “Something that not many people know about you” portion of the Q&A, Long offered this: “I’m not cocky, [but] when it’s brought up, I tend to speak on the success that I’ve had. Not throw it in your face, but just to say ‘I’m here, I’m accomplished, I’ve done this and I’ve done that.’ But I’m not a cocky person. Everybody thinks I’m cocky, but I’m really not, though. I’m a humble guy.”
But when asked how opposing defenses will be able to stop Stefon Diggs and him, Long said this: “They’re not going to be able to. That’s my mindset going in. They’re not going to be able to. If they double me, we’ll make them pay on the inside. If they double the inside, I’ll make them pay on the outside. [We’re] just working together to keep defenses honest.”
How’s that for confidence? With the graduations of Kevin Dorsey and Kerry Boykins, Long will quickly get a chance to back up that braggadocio. If his first two years of college are any indication of future success, Maryland's got a good one.