As Maryland has increasingly encountered postseason opponents boasting small lineups, its four post players have seen their playing time drop. Beginning in the ACC tournament with Wake Forest, Coach Mark Turgeon has trimmed his rotation’s fat, looking first toward the paint.
James Padgett has not seen the court in two of the past five games. Shaq Cleare is averaging 6.8 minutes in that span. Even Alex Len registered a season-low 14 minutes in the NIT second round against Denver.
Circumstance caused most of this. The undersize Pioneers dominated inside, so a desperate Turgeon called upon a five-guard lineup to save Maryland’s season. But with Seth Allen sidelined with a fractured hand for Tuesday night’s NIT quarterfinal matchup with Alabama, Turgeon’s actually calling upon his front court to shoulder the load.
“We have five guards” without Allen, Turgeon said. “The thing where it hurts us, is we’ve been playing a small lineup a lot. We can still play a small lineup, but maybe not as much. Guys like Padge, Charles, Shaq will probably get those minutes also. We’ll see how the flow of the game goes.”
The Terps are still alive in the NIT thanks to some superb adaptability, but the initial problem remains: When matched up against smaller lineups, Maryland has tried to execute its inside-out game plan and inevitably gets forced out of it. So the onus lies on the players to execute early and force Alabama to its bench, where 7-foot reserve center Moussa Gueye resides.
Turgeon gave the players Friday and Saturday off, but called the post players in for a four-on-one workout session on Saturday.
“I didn’t know Seth was going to get hurt,” Turgeon said. “But I felt like for us to win this tournament, the big guys have to be important. I wanted to let them know that. It hasn’t been fun for them. Sitting over there these last five games, but they’re ready and fresh and they’re excited about playing.”
>> The possibility of ending their season in New York City is serving as a bonus reward for the Terps. James Padgett hails from Brooklyn, and the younger players like the idea of sending him out in his home city. It would also give the season some neat symmetry after opening the year at Barclays Center against Kentucky.
“It’s kind of a measuring stick,” point guard Pe’Shon Howard. “We’ll just come out and play hard, but we don’t have to use that as motivation. Just the fact that we want to win another championship .That’s our motivation.”
>> Alabama rocked Maryland in the Puerto Rico Tip-off last season. Nick Faust shot 1 for 6 from the field and no player scored in double figures. The Terps entered halftime with just 20 points and lost 62-42.
“I think they’ve won 12 straight [at home],” Turgeon said. “They’ve played well, really at the end of the year in the SEC championship. So if we want to get to New York, which is the motivation behind this tournament, we’ve got to get a road win. We’ve played with so much more poise on the road, so we’re excited about it.”
>> Faust offered a little insight into how the Terps are coping with Allen’s injury.
“It definitely was devastating for the team, to lose him,” Faust said. “But you just have to push through and adapt.”
“We’re fine. Guys are mature enough to move on.”
In what way are they trying to move on?
“In a positive way,” Faust said. “Just doing all the same things, just keep moving, keep pushing forward and moving in the right direction.”