COLLEGE PARK — For weeks, Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon has called his Terps "a work in progress," even when the team received its highest preseason ranking since 2001. After Tuesday's come-from-behind 75-71 win over Georgetown, Maryland's most ardent fans might start believing Turgeon.
Using words such as "fortunate" and "lucky" to describe how the No. 3 Terps won despite a shaky start and a stretch during the second half during which the unranked Hoyas muscled their way to a seven-point lead, Turgeon also mentioned words such as "rushed" and "tight" in talking about his team's offensive and emotional struggles.
"We never really relaxed offensively," Turgeon said. "We were a little better in the second half because they were in front of me and I could control it a little more. I don't know how many times I made a call and four guys got it and one guy didn't. That was probably five or six times. Our communication wasn't great. You can't be successful when one guy doesn't have the play call. But in the end, when we had to do it, we were all dialed in the last 41/2 minutes."
Trailing 61-54 with 5:48 remaining, the Terps tied the game at 61 with 3:56 to go on a 3-pointer by sophomore point guard Melo Trimble, fell behind on lay-in by Georgetown center Bradley Hayes and then took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon with 1:18 to go.
Maryland scored on its last nine possessions, hitting 5 of 6 shots (including three straight 3-pointers) and eight straight free throws, six by Trimble.
Carried in the first half by transfers Robert Carter Jr. and Sulaimon, the Terps got very little offensively in the first half from Trimble and nothing from senior forward Jake Layman and sophomore wing Jared Nickens. Trimble hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the half, while Layman and Nickens were a combined 0-for-7 at halftime.
Trimble finished with 17 of his 24 points in the second half. Layman scored all of his 15 points after halftime.
"Jake's a different kid this year," Turgeon said. "I thought his leadership throughout the game was terrific. I think every time he missed, we kept yelling, 'Keep shooting, Jake.' We did the same thing to Jared. It took a long time for Melo to find his rhythm. He never really got it going for him. Jake's a new player, he kept defending, he kept trying to rebound, he kept leading. He shot his way out of it tonight."
Turgeon and his players acknowledged that the pregame hype, including bringing back several members of three Maryland teams that beat Georgetown, might have contributed to the way the Terps struggled.
"It showed a little bit, especially early on," Sulaimon said. "There were a lot of emotions in there, a lot of adrenaline pumping. We got a little bit outside of ourselves. That's one of the jobs that me, Robert Carter and Jake as experienced guys have to bring everybody together. Once we got into a groove a little bit, we kind of took off, especially in the latter parts of the game."
Said Turgeon,: "I didn't want to let them down, we didn't want to let them down, and we played that way, we played tight. Hopefully we can relax and get comfortable in these atmospheres."
Compounding Maryland's problem was a sudden lack of depth in the backcourt. Trimble played 34 minutes and Sulaimon played 37. Backup guard Jaylen Brantley, who was expected to take some of the burden off Trimble at the point, was on the court for less than one minute.
"This is the one time I'm going to say it this year, we missed Dion [Wiley] tonight," Turgeon said of the sophomore guard who is out for the season after undergoing surgery last week to repair a torn meniscus. "We're still adjusting without Dion. We needed to play small and I had to wait to save our energy to do it. I've got to figure out a way to play better."
Turgeon will have plenty of work on — and time to work on it — before Maryland's next big game Dec. 1 at top-ranked North Carolina in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
"I keep saying it, we're finding ourselves, we're in no way where we need to be," said Turgeon, whose Terps play Friday against Rider before heading to Mexico for the Cancun Challenge.
"Each day we get a little bit better. To handle adversity tonight, I thought we could have handled it a little bit better. We talked about mental toughness at halftime, we talked about mental toughness at every timeout and we've got to play a little more physical. We got outrebounded (36-28, including 21-13 in the second half) and that shouldn't happen in our building."