Maryland-Notre Dame pregame notes: Terps ‘haven’t been good in certain phases’ of offense

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The Maryland men’s basketball team, technically speaking, runs a motion offense, which at times seems like a designation in name only. The scheme includes cross screens, down screens, up screens and plenty of curling around said screens, but sometimes devolves into stasis.

In these moments, it seems the only player moving is the guard dribbling the basketball, and occasionally the big man rushing up to set a pick. The other three Terrapins stand around, maybe waiting for a kick-out, maybe just watching the possession unfold. Evidently, this is by design.

“We stand a little bit,” Coach Mark Turgeon said Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday night’s game against Notre Dame. “Now we have some offenses where guys are standing and spreading the floor, trying to use penetration. That might look like we’re standing around and they’re supposed to be, we’re spacing the floor some.”

Over the past two games, both big losses to Pittsburgh and Florida State, the Terps have posted their two lowest offensive ratings since the Paradise Jam in November, averaging around 0.85 points per possession in both games. Turgeon singled out the shot distribution against Florida State, when leading scorer Dez Wells attempted just four field goals.

“We’ve got to run our system better,” Turgeon said. “Our point guard play has to be better. They know it. We talked about it. It has to be better. So if we run our system better and we screen better and we execute better, it’s going to help everybody.

“We haven’t been good in certain phases of our offense. That’s the key. You’ve got to get guys playing better. That’s the whole key. We’re just trying to get them mentally ready tomorrow night.”

Sophomore Jake Layman, the subject of Wednesday’s advance in the print edition, spends plenty of possessions hanging out in the corner, waiting to receive a pass so he can shoot a three-pointer. But he spoke adamantly Tuesday about creating his own shot and driving to the hoop. Because teams have figured out that Maryland’s extent of plays for Layman involves running him off screens or hoping defenders help onto drivers, the forward needs to start manufacturing for himself.

“Our system’s got to be better and it’ll happen,” Turgeon said. “Our point guards got to do a better job of finding guys on the break. A lot of times, to be honest with you, within the plays and stuff we’re doing, we just flat out miss him. Guys just flat-out miss him. With that said, everyone’s really aware of him.”

>> During the ESPNU broadcast of Sunday night’s loss to Florida State, analyst and former Duke star Jay Williams launched into a critique of the Terrapins, more specifically Turgeon’s substitution patterns.

“Now look, everybody has different philosophies defensively or, you know, taking good shots or some things — you know, running it through a player and executing — but it seems like some players for Maryland play a little bit tight on the offensive end,” Williams said, via the Baltimore Sun. “And I don’t know if that is them just being afraid to get outside of themselves or the coach just demands them to execute more, but if Maryland was a little bit looser offensively and played to their strength, right, which is driving and shooting threes, being confident, Jake Layman driving down the lane, dunking on people and shooting threes. I thought this team, if they played a little bit looser, they would be a better basketball team.”

It wasn’t nearly the scathing critique some outlets have portrayed it to be – “Turgeon’s coaching ability questioned by Jay Williams,” read one headline – but it did raise a legitimate point. The term “heat check” applies not in College Park, and Turgeon has demonstrated that he has little problem pulling someone who has made several shots in a row.

“I don’t know if they’re tight,” Turgeon said when asked about Williams’s remarks. “I thought the start of the game we were walking on egg shells. Maybe we were tight. I don’t know. Florida State’s got some pretty long, lengthy guys out there. It took us a while to get used to that. Did we not play well? Yeah. But because we were tight? I don’t think so.”

As another reporter began his question, Turgeon said Williams later “called me about that.”

>> Since star Jerian Grant left Notre Dame on Dec. 22 because of academic issues, senior point guard Eric Atkins has become the Fighting Irish’s go-to scorer. Exactly one week after Grant left school, Atkins dropped a career-high 30 points on Canisus and has since hung 19 points on Duke, 14 on North Carolina State and 20 on Georgia Tech.

“Their point guard’s terrific,” Turgeon said. “He’s scoring at a high clip, he’s a one-man fast break.

“We’ve played against a lot of good players. He’s complete, he can shoot the three, he can do it off the dribble and he can get to the rim. Try to put good defenders on him, talked about him a lot, and be aware of him. I don’t know what he’s been averaging since Grant went down but it’s more than 14.”

It’s 20.8.

>> Maryland point guard Seth Allen had his worst game since returning from a broken foot, missing all eight field goal attempts – and six three-pointers – and scoring just one point against Florida State. He also committed several mental defensive errors that led to open Seminoles shots and had Turgeon lamenting his point guard play, to the point that Dez Wells opened the second half at that position with both Allen and Roddy Peters on the bench.

Allen remains two to three weeks away from full health, Turgeon said, and he practiced only around three-quarters of the time Tuesday. But “today was his best practice since he’s been back,” Turgeon said.

>> For the first time in his coaching career, Turgeon has lost two straight games by at least 20 points apiece.

“That’s probably the first time I’ve ever lost by 20 in two straight games,” forward Evan Smotrycz said. “So … nothing else we can do about it. Just got to come out and play better. The way the league is, teams are so good that if you’re making shots and the other team has a couple droughts, the score’s going to be really different. Hopefully we can come out and execute and make some shots tomorrow.”

>> Over the past two games, Maryland’s four big men have scored 11 points and committed 14 fouls.

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