Welcome back to Morning Shootaround, a regular feature this season the day after Maryland basketball games. We will recap what Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his players said in the postgame news conference. We will give some of our own insight into what transpired on the court during the previous day's game and what the Terps will be working on at practice looking ahead to their next game.
Maryland 86, Niagara 70 at Comcast Center on Tuesday (NIT first round)
Given how unpredictable the Terps have been for most of the past two months, nobody was quite sure which of Mark Turgeon's teams would show up for the first postseason game. Would it be the one that beat Duke twice and nearly did the same to North Carolina last Saturday in Greensboro? Or would it be the one that sleepwalked through the second half of road losses at Boston College and Georgia Tech?
I'm sure Turgeon didn't have a good feeling when an early 9-2 lead disappeared, Niagara started hitting 3s and the Terps were about to go down seven points late in the first half. A missed one-and-one by Niagara opened the door and Maryland took over. Niagara coach Joe Mihalich later said that it was the pivotal moment in the game.
I know it's the NIT, but as Kentucky showed in losing at Robert Morris on Tuesday night, some teams seem to want their seasons to end. Maryland clearly doesn't, resembling the bunch that played with a spark when they were beating up on nonconference opponents in the preseason. This time, the Terps beat a good mid-major team soundly, something they had not done back in December.
I asked Turgeon after the Niagara win if he sensed his team played a little looser than it had recently and might have contributed to one of Maryland's best performances of the season.
He completely disagreed with my premise.
"I thought we played pretty freely at Virginia, we just didn't get it done," Turgeon said of the overtime loss in Charlottesville to close the regular season, a game when the Terps blew a 17-point lead. "I thought the first half at Wake Forest we felt pressure. After that, I don't think we played that way. Carolina was just three games in three days. I think we've played loose. We've been determined to become a better basketball teams and wherever that takes us that takes us."
It will take Maryland to a second-round game Thursday night at home against Denver.
Another late-season surge for Faust
A lot of Maryland's improvement the past few weeks has to do with the sudden steadiness of sophomore guard Nick Faust (City). A month ago, I wrote a story about Faust's uneven season. Since scoring a season-high 18 points in a home win over Clemson on Feb. 23, Faust has resembled the player who finished strong his freshman year.
In the nine games starting with Clemson, Faust has averaged 13.3 points (scoring in double figures eight times). He has shot nearly 58 percent from the field (47 of 71) and 45 percent on 3s (18 of 40). What struck me Tuesday night against Niagara was the way Faust was attacking the boards, finishing with a career-high 11 rebounds to go along with a team-high 15 points (sharing honors there with Logan Aronhalt and Seth Allen).
"It was me getting after it, me really trying to help my team," Faust said in the locker room after the game.
Faust's late-season revival coincides with Turgeon moving him back to his natural position, on the wing.
As Pe'Shon Howard emerged from Turgeon's doghouse to get back into the rotation and eventually the starting lineup at point guard, Faust showed where he is comfortable playing.
While turnovers continue to be a problem, the other parts of Faust's game have picked up.
Seniors going out differently
Aronhalt and fellow senior James Padgett are in completely different places as their careers wind down.
Aronhalt, who transferred to Maryland after playing at Albany, recovered from his desperation airball to tie North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals with a strong performance against Niagara, hitting five of seven 3s in 22 minutes off the bench. Padgett, who played a total of nine minutes in Greensboro, didn't get off the bench for the second time in three games.
This isn't strictly about Turgeon playing his young guys, since freshman Shaquille Cleare played only eight minutes against Niagara. When a reporter asked Turgeon whether Padgett's DNP was strictly the result of Maryland playing a small lineup to counter Niagara, Turgeon said he asked the 6-foot-8 forward if he "wanted to play in the last 10 minutes and he said 'No.' "
Turgeon is hard to figure out when it comes to who plays and who doesn't -- this is a guy who has used 14 different starting lineups this season. Turgeon has been very supportive of Padgett, who barely played under Gary Williams, so for him not to be getting any time could be an indication that his role will be marginal the rest of the way.
Then again, he could wind up in the starting lineup the way Howard did suddenly against Wake Forest toward the end of the regular season.
It's always a difficult situation, but Turgeon should be giving most of the time at that position to Mitchell, who had 10 points and four rebounds in 16 minutes against Niagara after getting five points and six rebounds in 12 minutes against the Tar Heels. Mitchell -- and Cleare -- are going to be getting heavy minutes next year, so why not start giving it to them now?
I know the news came out a few days ago that Maryland is going to sign a multiyear deal to play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., but I think it's a pretty significant move for the Terps. Aside from Brooklyn being the new mecca for New York basketball -- at least in the eyes of this native -- I think going there will give the Terps a new recruiting base.
No opponents have been announced, but I would love to see the Terps play one of their future Big Ten opponents there next season. Given the number of Indiana alums living in the New York area (including one in my family), a matchup with the Hoosiers, who also played there this season, would be a great start.
The Terps will be playing Denver (22-9) on Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Comcast Center.
I don't know much about the Pioneers, except that their coach, Joe Scott, is a former Princeton player and coach. That usually means the team he coaches runs a lot of what is called the Princeton offense, meaning Maryland will have to be aware of a lot of back-door cuts.
Maryland handled a similar offense pretty well in a 20-point win at Northwestern where its now former coach, Bill Carmody, was also a disciple of Pete Carril.