COLLEGE PARK — Mark Turgeon is the kind of coach that tends to see trouble lurking even when the potential for a trap game is not really there, hoping his Maryland players do the same. Before and after a recent game against Georgetown, Turgeon saw danger signs with Mount St. Mary's and Rider.
It took a while in both games for the Terps to follow their worried coach.
It took a while against Cleveland State on Saturday night at Xfinity Center.
Following three comeback victories in four games before Wednesday's 23-point romp over Rhode Island in the championship game of the Cancun Challenge, Turgeon and the No. 2 Terps returned from Thanksgiving well rested and well fed. Maybe a bit too much.
In what was the conclusion to the Cancun tournament that the Terps had seemingly won by taking the trophy home from the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, Maryland needed more than 30 minutes to pull away from the Vikings, 80-63.
Junior forward Robert Carter Jr., who made the all-tournament team in Mexico, continued his strong play back on his home court, finishing with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting and eight rebounds.
Carter acknowledged that Tuesday's game at once-No. 1 North Carolina (now No. 9) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge was in the back of his mind.
"When you're in between [big] games, it's always easy to fall down and lose," said Carter, who along with the Terps continued his hot shooting from Cancun, making both of his 3-point tries. "You have to remain focused and stay on track to get a win. We came out focused today and did well."
On a night when Cleveland State (2-4) seemed content to let someone other than tournament MVP Melo Trimble (eight points, six assists) and Rasheed Sulaimon (six points), who also made the all-tournament team, dominate as they did in Mexico, Carter, sophomore wing Jared Nickens and freshman center Diamond Stone were the main beneficiaries.
The Vikings used a press to take the ball out of the hands of Trimble and Sulaimon, but Carter and Stone dominated inside while Nickens was firing away from the perimeter. Nickens scored a career-high 16 points, shooting 6-for-8 including 4-for-6 on 3-pointers. Stone set a career high with 15.
After shooting 60 percent from the field against Rhode Island, including 10-for-17 on 3-pointers, Maryland shot 58 percent (29-for-50) on Saturday, including 7-for-14 on 3-pointers. The Terps had a season-high 22 assists to only 10 turnovers.
With Tuesday's matchup at the Tar Heels looming, the 6-0 Terps might have overlooked the Vikings, especially considering they had lost at Rhode Island by 28 points earlier in the season. In Mexico, Cleveland State had also beaten a Rider team that Maryland beat by seven.
"Defensively we didn't start the game very well. We let them get confident," Turgeon said. "Give Cleveland State credit. They made a lot of shots tonight. They just kept coming at us. I thought the second half we were better defensively. We changed our ball-screen defense. It was the third ball-screen defense we tried and it finally worked."
Turgeon was asked it was tough for the Terps to focus on Cleveland State after Wednesday's dominant win and postgame near fracas with the Rams and their coach, Dan Hurley, as well as the upcoming game with a team that went into the season ranked No. 1 before losing to Northern Iowa on Nov. 21.
"I thought we were ready. We practiced really well last night and we had a good shootaround today," Turgeon said. "We were up 20 in the second half. You can't be too hard on them when you look at a lot of the scores in college basketball. It's hard to win. Maybe it was a little flat to start, looking forward to what lies ahead. But we have to be more consistent in our effort."
That was Turgeon's message at halftime.
"'Give me a little more effort, guys. Play a little bit harder in the second half,' and I think we did that in the second half," said Turgeon, whose team led by four, 37-33, at halftime despite shooting 14-for-23 from the field.
Said Nickens, "Coach was mad at us going into halftime and we just responded. We didn't want to make it a close game, so we came out and just played harder, played with more effort and got the job done."