COLLEGE PARK - Maryland's games in December are important, coach Mark Turgeon says, because his Terrapins aren't quite as good as some enthusiasts and pundits have claimed.
Case in point: Saturday afternoon's game against South Carolina State.
The Terps didn't have too much trouble in beating the Bulldogs 61-46 in front of 12,052 fans at Comcast Center. But the game wasn't one for Turgeon's liking.
Maryland struggled at times against S.C. State's delayed offensive sets and zone defense. The Terps didn't shoot well, going 19 for 51 for a 37.3 percentage. And they had but one player finish in double digits.
Still, the Terrapins (8-1) won their eighth in a row and matched the program's longest streak since the 2006-07 season.
In the midst of an eight-game homestand, with the first six coming against non-conference opponents, maintaining the same intensity seems to be the biggest challenge right now. Maryland's first ACC contest isn't until Jan. 5, so getting up for the likes of Monmouth, Stony Brook, Delaware State, and IUPUI could figure to be tough.
"It's a win," Turgeon said after Saturday's game. "It wasn't really a game that you could get into very easily. ... It wasn't really a fun game to part of, to be honest."
Turgeon has expressed similar feelings this season, noting his players are still young and learning how to mesh before the thick of the schedule arrives. Maryland hasn't been threatened much since losing to Kentucky in the season opener, although things haven't clicked at times in the games after that.
The Bulldogs (4-5) tried to stay close Saturday behind outside shooting from guards Khalif Toombs and Louie Adams.
The backcourt duo combined for 27 points on 10 for 21 shooting, and Toombs was 4 for 6 from 3-point range.
Toombs sank a pair of 3-pointers in succession that cut Maryland's lead to 21-14 with a little less than five minutes to play in the first half. It took the Bulldogs nearly 15 minutes to break double digits.
The Terrapins answered with 3-pointers from Logan Aronhalt and Seth Allen, however, and the home team built its lead back to 27-14.
Maryland led 31-18 at the break behind six points apiece from forwards Alex Len and Shaquille Cleare.
Len finished with 13 points and six rebounds while Cleare and Dez Wells each scored eight.
"I think we played good," said Wells, who wowed the crowd with one of Maryland's four alley-oop slam dunks. "We're going to play against another team like that, so it's a good experience for us. We just have to get better every day."
Maryland had 16 assists on 19 baskets and committed only 11 turnovers while South Carolina State shot 32 percent and attempted a mere seven foul shots. The Terrapins were 18 for 22 at the foul line, which Turgeon said was the key to Saturday's win.
But the coach didn't hide from his team's shortcomings, like missed opportunities in the first half, the lowest scoring output of the season, and a relative no-show from forward Charles Mitchell. The freshman started but played only eight minutes and scored two points, and Turgeon said he felt Mitchell (6.5 points, 7.5 rebounds per game) didn't come ready to play.
"It was frustrating, but Coach really told us to be mentally tough," said freshman guard Seth Allen, who had five assists.
"We just weren't hitting shots."
Monmouth is up next for the Terps, who have to wait almost a month before they see their first ACC foe in Virginia Tech. Maryland should head into conference play with a healthy winning streak, plenty of confidence, and lessons learned from its December stretch.
"It's a 'W,' and we will move on," Turgeon said. "Take a day off [today] and hope to get better in practice on Monday."