Frustrated with Maryland’s defensive effort in Wednesday’s loss at Georgia Tech and seemingly out of viable options, Terrapins Coach Mark Turgeon turned his starting lineup into a high school civics lesson.
The Terrapins broke down in every facet against the Yellow Jackets, failing to get back on defense and allowing forwards Robert Carter Jr. and Daniel Miller to execute their will inside. So as the team wrapped up a Thursday film session, bracing to depart Atlanta and fly to North Carolina for Saturday’s game at Wake Forest, Turgeon issued a challenge. Saturday’s starting lineup would be based solely on defensive effort. The catch? The coaches would vote.
And so it became that, for the first time since Dec. 29, the Terrapins started Pe’Shon Howard, Nick Faust, Dez Wells, James Padgett and Alex Len. Since 2013 rolled around, Maryland has started at least one freshman in each game, while Howard found himself relegated to the bench in the team’s never-ending quest for a starting point guard.
Before the Georgia Tech game, an erroneous television graphic listed those five as the evening’s starters, drawing confusion and ire alike from fans. But in Saturday’s 67-57 win over the Demon Deacons, Turgeon’s democratic gamble didn’t seem particularly out of place. Despite fouling out, Padgett played a solid 17 minutes and finished with six points on 3-of-5 shooting. Howard turned in arguably his best game in ACC play, logging his most minutes (30) since the ACC opener against Virginia Tech and finishing with a well-rounded eight points, four assists, three rebounds, two steals and two turnovers.
“We got after them really hard in films on Thursday, practiced hard yesterday here, said we’re going to start our best defenders and make every decision on defense,” Turgeon said. “We did that for the most part, did offense-defense late with Logan and Nick, but it was just a gutty performance.”
>> Foul trouble made sticking with a defense-oriented substitution pattern fairly difficult. Maryland committed one foul less than its season high (it had 25 against Duke), but for the first time all season the Terrapins entered halftime with its four post players burdened by two fouls apiece.
Padgett eventually fouled out with 4 minutes 51 seconds left, but both Wells and Len played mistake-free basketball after picking up their third early in the period.
“Coach struggled with the rotation for a bit, it didn’t seem like…I think we had eight fouls in the first three minutes of the second half, but guys stepped up,” Logan Aronhalt said. (Actually, it was eight in the first 3:47, but close enough.) “I don’t think everyone had their best game, but they played within themselves, and really everyone defended well. That was the biggest factor.”
>> Wake Forest had a nice halftime ceremony for Chris Paul, who traveled home to Winston-Salem with his wife and young son for just 18 hours in between games with the Los Angeles Clippers. The former Demon Deacons guard had his likeness unveiled from the rafters and received his old jersey, framed in honor.
Before the game, Paul chatted with reporters for about 10 minutes, regaling everyone with memories of his two seasons at Wake Forest. Among the highlights:
— He still has a 336 area code, despite having lived in both New Orleans and Los Angeles.
— Paul only commanded such immediate attention at Wake Forest because the team’s starting point guard, Taron Downey, got appendicitis and underwent and emergency appendectomy.
— When Paul’s son, also named Chris, was born, Wake Forest Athletic Director Ron Wellman sent the family a special baby gift. It was a letter-of-intent. Wellman first approached Paul about a jersey retirement over dinner two years ago. “I got goosebumps,” Paul said.
— Speaking of little Chris, Paul said: “Back there, he doesn’t realize what’s going on. One of these days I’ll bring him over here, and he’ll realize that I wasn’t so bad.”
>> John Auslander, who’s begun dressing with the team, was a fan favorite at Joel Coliseum. True to form, Auslander spent all game standing up and sitting down, barking instructions from his customary seat toward the end of Maryland’s bench, acting like the player-coach he’s developed into this season.
One particular fan didn’t take too kindly to Auslander’s unique methods for watching the game, and spent the afternoon’s duration chiding him. To his credit, Auslander never responded, except beckoning for the taunts to continue.
It’s possible Auslander has encountered similar situations before. After all, his standing up is nothing new, and he’s probably one of Turgeon’s most valuable assets on the bench. But since the media seating bisected Maryland’s bench, we got an earful of Auslander’s in-game directions. The junior does not stop talking or instructing. Ever.