Nick Faust put offense on display against Clemson

Several nights each week, often around midnight, Nick Faust walks into an empty Comcast Center and begins to shoot. Sometimes, the sophomore goes alone. Other times, he takes teammates along. Always, he hauls out the shooting machine, parks it beneath one basket and launches hundreds of jumpers.

Faust spent the offseason overhauling his jumper, fixing the form that made him so  erratic his freshman year. He moved the release point, from across his body to the strong side. Then the season began, and Faust reached double figures in eight of Maryland’s first 10 games.

Since then? He’s done it three times.

Point guard troubles have forced Faust into the starting role, and his offensive numbers have suffered as a result. Of course, this means an under control Faust too. He still averages roughly the same number of field goal attempts per game during ACC play (7.1) as he did against non-conference opponents (7.6), but the differences have been striking enough. Faust seems far less reckless and far more confident as Maryland’s floor general. And after coming off the bench for two straight games against Duke and Boston College, Faust delivered his best game this season in Saturday’s 72-59 win over Clemson.

“I always had confidence,” Faust said. “Rather than me [forcing] it, I’m just making the right play and executing.”

Faust shot 7 for 10 from the field, reaching double figures for the first time since Jan. 22 with a season-high 18 points. He matched a career-high with four three-pointers, snatched three steals, dished three assists and committed no turnovers, though he admitted afterwards that his teammates helped save two potential giveaways.

In his late-night sessions, Faust has emphasized stepping into three-pointers, rather than hastily hoisting off-balance attempts. Only once against Clemson did he shoot an ill-advised three-pointer, and Faust quickly earned a benching from Coach Mark Turgeon. Everything else, however, pleased the second-year coach. And perhaps most importantly, Faust strung together two solid halves, rather than starting slowly or fading away.

“Nick has put a lot of time into his jumper,” Turgeon said. “We put the shooting machine, the gun, up a lot and he’s on it a lot … When he steps in he can make those. When he shoots those other crazy ones he isn’t quite as good. He did that. I thought his floor game was good. He got us into our offense. I thought he defended better. I’m on Nick all the time to be an elite defender and taking on a challenge. He really defended today.”

Now, the trick becomes consistency. Like his teammates, Faust has been unpredictable this season. Since scoring 14 points on 5 of 10 shooting at Miami, Faust had shot 32 percent (24 for 75) from the field over the next 11 games, before the Clemson contest. But after committing at least three turnovers in six of eight games, Faust has an eight-to-zero assist-to-turnover ratio over the past two, playing primarily at point guard.

“Just playing smarter and executing,” Faust said. “It was a good thing for us. I think guys have just been trying to be precise and make the right play all the time.”

Faust’s jumper didn’t appear particularly different against Clemson, but his shots consistently found the net rather than clanging off the iron. With Dez Wells (four points) and Alex Len (nine points) largely stymied by the Tigers, the Terrapins needed a savior. For the first time all February, it was Faust.

“It was a big thing for us,” Faust said. “They’re our leading scorers. If they can’t go, guys stepping in, it shows we’re a solid team.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.

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Alex Prewitt · February 25, 2013