COLLEGE PARK — There are two ways to look at Maryland’s performance Thursday night against Fairleigh Dickinson.
The Terps certainly showed their potential during a stretch of more than eight minutes when they outscored FDU 24-0 in the first half by hitting 8 of 10 shots, including 4 of 5 on 3-pointers, while stopping the Knights on a dozen straight possessions.
But the other 32 minutes were mostly a microcosm of what has ailed Mark Turgeon’s team this season, particularly during its three losses. The offense became sloppy and stale, and the defense took possessions off.
Though easy to dismiss the second-half struggles to Maryland building its lead to a comfortable 23 points at halftime and to missing three starters, it’s still enough to wonder when Turgeon’s team will put a full game together.
With the resumption of the Big Ten schedule less than two weeks away, there is a feeling that the Terps need to show up with a full complement of healthy bodies for that Jan. 2 game against Penn State or it might be a struggle to get to their fourth straight NCAA tournament.
Here are three observations and opinions from Maryland’s 75-50 win over FDU.
Kevin Huerter’s near triple-double could have even been more spectacular.
The 6-7 sophomore guard has long demonstrated why he is one of Maryland’s most versatile players in recent memory – maybe in program history – and his 12-point, 15-rebound, eight-assist, three-blocked shot performance was one of the most dazzling of his short career.
Only his own poor second-half shooting (1 of 8, 0 for 3 on 3-pointers) and that of his teammates (8 of 21, 1 of 12 on 3’s) prevented it from being even more memorable. Still, it showed why Huerter can be one of the best players in the Big Ten this season.
As is his nature, Huerter said that his favorite stat was the eight assists, a career-high. His 15 rebounds, also a career-high, were the most by a Maryland player since Charles Mitchell in the 2013-14 season. Huerter’s performance came with a tad of irony.
The only thing a player known mostly for his 3-point shooting didn’t do all that well was shooting it from long range in the second half.
Is Dion Wiley’s season going in the wrong direction again?
Heading into the season, Turgeon said that the redshirt junior guard could be an X-factor for the Terps. Right now, he’s simply becoming a question mark again. Thursday’s game was the second straight that Wiley missed either because of injury or illness.
While Turgeon was quick to point out that Wiley had practiced well this week – as did sophomore forward Justin Jackson, who sat out his third straight, his second with a sore shoulder – it’s surprising to see a player who’s scrapping for court time not out there.
Wiley started the season shooting the ball well from the outside (13 of 27 on 3-pointers the first eight games) and playing better defense than he had in the past. He had earned a spot in the starting lineup for the first time in his injury-plagued career.
Now he seems in jeopardy of losing that to freshman Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph), given the 6-foot-4 guard is a much better defensive player than Wiley and has proven to be a capable scorer despite struggling with his outside shot.
The only thing that could keep Morsell out of the starting lineup is the energy he proved he could provide the Terps off the bench earlier this season. If Turgeon starts his five best players, Morsell will be part of the pre-game introductions.
Turnovers will determine the direction of this season.
The Terps are doing a lot of things better this season than they have in the past.
They are sharing the ball a lot more (averaging better than 15 assists for the first time in Turgeon’s seven seasons), they are consistently outrebounding the opposition, and they are taking better shots because of Anthony Cowan and Huerter finding open shooters..
Maryland did all of that against FDU, but again, the Terps committed silly turnovers that prevented them from building a bigger lead early in the first half and, after the 24-0 run, stopped them from keeping the momentum going in the second half.
Turgeon dismissed a lot of the sloppiness to using a makeshift lineup due to the absence of Jackson, Wiley and senior center Michal Cekovsky, who sat out to rest his ankle. But the first two turnovers early in the game were due to Huerter throwing a bad pass and Cowan forcing a drive.
While Maryland’s big men seem better at holding their spots longer and not being called for illegal screens – freshman Bruno Fernando is the best at that of the regulars – the guards still have a habit of making what Turgeon called “maddening” turnovers.
FDU is a team that thrives on getting into passing lanes – the Knights had 12 steals – but Big Ten teams can learn from watching tape of Thursday’s game and probably figure out how to disrupt Maryland’s offense even more.
The Terps are going to need to have more games with single-digit turnovers or, at worst, low double-digit turnovers if they want to keep their streak with at least 12 wins in the Big Ten going this season.
To do that, they will need to get a lot better at taking care of the ball than they have the first 14 games.