Things Maryland needs to do to improve

I didn't know that Maryland could win an ACC game playing the way it did in beating Wake Forest Wednesday night.

I'm not sure that first-year coach Mark Turgeon did either.

After playing what Turgeon thought was his team's best all-around half of the season in taking a 40-24 lead into its lockeroom at halftime, the Terps lost their offensive rhythm and defensive intensity yet still managed to win their and Turgeon's first ACC game.

It certainly helped playing a team that, like Maryland, is still trying to figure things out under second-year coach Jeff Bzdelik.

It also helped playing at home, and the energy from what was easily the biggest and loudest Comcast Center crowd of the season was probably a factor.

Getting into the bonus at the free-throw line less than 5 1/2 minutes into the second half allowed the Terps some margin for error as they struggled against Wake Forest's zone defense.

But as Maryland gets ready for Sunday's game against Georgia Tech at Comcast Center -- another very winnable game -- here are some observations on what Maryland needs to do in order to keep improving:

* As many did in watching Alex Len play against the likes of Albany, Samford and Cornell, I might have been too quick to anoint the 7-foot-1 freshman as someone who could become an offensive force in the ACC right away. He did dominate in the first half against Wake Forest on the defensive end -- blocking a couple of shots and altering several others -- but I think it's hard for Len to put up big numbers offensively yet because he's still adjusting to the American game. I know Turgeon has talked about playing the game from inside-out, but Maryland's guards, particularly Terrell Stoglin, tend to take quick shots or wait until the 35-second clock is about to expire and take bad ones. The offense needs to go more through Len, who is a terrific passer.

* Pe'Shon Howard has to start hitting his outside shot. My Sun colleague Jeff Barker pointed out to me as we watched Wednesday's game that Howard once hit 10 3s in a game at Oak Hill. Howard, who has made only one of 13 shots the past two games, tends to pass up wide-open jumpers to drive the ball. He then has a habit of getting blocked or forcing a pass inside. If he starts hitting his jumper, opponents are going to have to respect that part of the game and it's going to open up the lane for Howard and open up the perimeter for Stoglin, Nick Faust and Sean Mosley. The Terps are not going to win too many games in the ACC with Howard scoring one point, as he did against the Demon Deacons.

* Develop Faust into more of a defensive player. Turgeon said early in the season that Faust could be one of his best defenders if the freshman guard wanted to be, and the job he (with help at points from others) did on C.J. Harris (10 points, 4-for-11 shooting) Wednesday night showed how effective he can be in that role. I'm sure it's difficult for Faust to go from being the man in high school to being the fourth or fifth offensive option in College Park, and losing his starting job when Howard returned was also an adjustment. But having him concentrate on defense right now is only going to help the Terps this season, and help him down the road when he is one of Maryland's go-to guys.

* Expand the rotation a little. I know Turgeon struggled with this before Howard returned and Len became eligible, and he continues to tweak the way he uses guys off the bench. He said after the game Wednesday that "we're not going to get better if I just play five guys all game." The options are definitely limited once you get past Faust, Ashton Pankey, Mychal Parker and even Berend Weijs, but one of the reasons Maryland seems to lose its leads in the second half is fatigue. This is one of the hardest-working Maryland teams I've seen when it is as intense defensively as Turgeon wants, but because of the Terps' youth, they tend to wear out. It's only January, and by late February or early March, Maryland's ability to hang on to those second-half leads could disappear as well.