Maryland-BC pregame notes: The curious case of Nick Faust

December 12, 2013

(Richard A. Lipski for The Washington Post)

For the first time all season, Coach Mark Turgeon removed Nick Faust from the starting lineup on Sunday against George Washington. Given the way Turgeon fawned over Faust’s replacement, point guard Varun Ram, the switch seemed more a reflection of Ram’s early-season defensive success than anything on Faust’s end.

But with freshman Roddy Peters possibly sliding into the starting rotation for Thursday’s ACC opener against Boston College, Faust may again come off the bench. After a consistently strong showing at the Paradise Jam, including what Turgeon called the best performance of the junior’s career against Northern Iowa, Faust has struggled stateside, shooting just 4 of 18 over the past two games. During that span, he is 2 for 12 from three-point range, exactly the statistics that caused George Washington Coach Mike Lonergan to hope for the “jack-it-up, chuck-it-up night” that eventually came.

“He’s got to get himself in it,” Turgeon said of Faust, the only scholarship player left from Turgeon’s first season at Maryland. “He’s playing 30 minutes a game. He’s got plenty of opportunities. Can’t help him with his shot. He’s got to get his shot going. They’re not guarding him. He’s open. He’s got to make them.”

A high-risk, high-reward offensive player by nature, Faust simply hasn’t been making shots. Sometimes, he rushes attempts early in the shot clock, taking three-pointers with more than 20 seconds left instead of running through the offense, but many of his choices would be considered perfectly acceptable by true shooters like Jake Layman or Evan Smotrycz.

But Faust excels on lane penetration, using his athleticism to slip through defenders and into the paint. He has displayed strong defensive capabilities, using his length to lock down opposing guards, and this is where his wheelhouse exists.

“Nick’s playing so much better in practice,” Turgeon said. “He’s letting his shot affect his game. I think most kids do. We’ll see. We need Nick obviously. We’re 5-4with the way he’s playing. If he starts playing better, everybody starts playing better, I think we’ll be a better basketball team.”

>> Through eight games, Maryland’s front-court rotation existed primarily of two main characters, plus a supporting actor occasionally sprinkled into the mix. Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell gulped down the minutes like they would protein shakes, often only one on the court at a time, while freshman Damonte Dodd sipped up the scraps here and there.

That left little time for the most experienced post player on the roster, the junior with two seasons of Big Ten experience seeking to finish his college career near home. Until he received 15 minutes against George Washington, Jon Graham was a scout-team regular, tasked with defending Cleare and Mitchell during practice. But after giving the Terps a jolt, the Baltimore native might have willed his way into the rotation.

“Absolutely,” Turgeon said. “Jon was great. Jon’s changed everything for us. Jon by playing hard rubbed off on everybody else. Jon’s going to play early and often if he plays well on Thursday.”

Graham’s and-one dunk over GW forward Isaiah Armwood resulted in a chest-thumping display of emotion, something Maryland had lacked when it fell behind by double digits. He was put on scholarship as a preferred walk-on after transferring from Penn State this offseason, but next year he might have to pay his own way as Turgeon brings in a heralded recruiting class that would theoretically put the team at the NCAA’s scholarship limit. But Graham is taking advantage of what little opportunity he’s had so far.

“I knew what I was signing up for,” he said. “I want to earn whatever I get. If I work hard enough and I earn whatever minutes I have, I just want to win games, whether it’s me playing five minutes, me playing 15 minutes or not playing at all. I came here to help this team win games and get them back to where Maryland needs to be.

He also blocked three shots and, while standing just 6 feet 8, is crafty enough to maneuver himself into opportunistic situations at the rim.

“I’ve always been the shot blocker,” Graham said. “I was taller than everybody else in high school, so it was easy. Blocking shots became a habit for me. It’s a matter of timing and everything. Blocking shots is a big part of defense. But defense is not always blocking shots. It’s staying in front of your man and making him take tough shots.

“That’s my way of playing. It’s my way of winning. You’ve got to be tough on defense, got to be gritty. You have to show the other team that you’re willing to play defense for however long it takes.”

>> Turgeon showed certain Terps video of Boston College’s players shooting free throws. Why? The Eagles rank second nationally in free throw percentage at 80.8. Starting point guard Joe Rahon, shooting guard Olivier Hanlan and forward Ryan Anderson are all better than 80 percent for the season. Contrast this with Maryland, which is shooting 62.6 percent, 315th nationally.

“These new rules make it tougher,” Turgeon said. “Hopefully we can make more free throws. It’s hard when you get outscored 10 at the line, eight at the line, 12 at the line. Usually we try to make more free throws than our opponents shoot. In that category, we’re not even close.”

No, they’re not. The Terps are 124 for 198 this season. Opponents are 136 for 193. Only 36 teams are shooting worse from the stripe than Maryland, though ACC foe North Carolina (61.8 percent) is among that group.

>> Providence lost Kris Dunn to season-ending shoulder surgery. The point guard had played just four games this season, and 23 minutes against Maryland at the Paradise Jam. If his injury at all affects the Friars, it could impact the Terps, too. After all, their victory over Providence in the Thanksgiving-week tournament was their best nonconference win to date, and likely will be when all is said and done.

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 · December 12, 2013