Terps pleased with offensive improvement against Pittsburgh

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

The Maryland men’s basketball team entered Saturday night proclaiming focus and altruism, or at least the desire for those missing attributes. The Terrapins hoped to display a more complete offense, one that didn’t regress into hero ball, defined by poor shot selection, the moment adversity struck. In this regard, perhaps an 83-79 loss to Pittsburgh was a step forward.

“We just executed better,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “We didn’t shoot so darn fast. You shoot fast you don’t have a chance.”

Despite numbers slightly deflated because Maryland spent the final few minutes chucking up three-pointers to stage a comeback, the Terps shot 59.5 percent on two-pointers, were better than their abysmal season average from the free throw line (76.7 percent Saturday versus 66.2 percent overall) and became just the third team this season to top 70 points against the Panthers.

During pregame availability Friday afternoon, both Dez Wells and Jake Layman were refreshingly honest about Maryland’s need for self-awareness, because so much of basketball success requires being open about your shortcomings. After Wells had scored 19 points, a team-high, he turned a question about shot selection into one of effort, which spoke volumes about how the Terps viewed the aftermath of their fourth loss in five games.

“At times I feel like it was better,” Wells said. “It can still get a lot better. Today I’m really happy with how hard we played, because that’s something you can’t teach. That’s the only thing you can control, is how hard you play. We came out and gave the maximum effort. I’m proud of my guys.”

What shooting-based mental errors the Terps avoided, they more than made up for elsewhere. Nick Faust fouled a three-point shooter. Dez Wells had a safety valve inbounds pass intercepted. Seth Allen inexplicably declined to accept a backcourt violation and give Pittsburgh a side out-of-bounds near midcourt, instead letting the basketball roll all the way underneath the baseline. In the first half alone, four moving screens were set.

“I think our ball-screen defense wasn’t as good as it should have been. that comes back to communicating,” Wells said. “We have to do a better job of talking and knowing situations like shot clock and what’s going to happen. Those are things you can’t teach. You can’t teach that right now. That’s what we have to get better at.”

But if they can’t be taught, how can Maryland get better?

>> Allen finished with a modest line of eight points, six assists, three rebounds, two steals and two turnovers, though one of those assists came on a behind-the-head alley-oop to Nick Faust when a simple layup would have sufficed.

Though Allen continues to endure a prolonged shooting slump – 5 for 24 on threes over the past four games – he was better at attacking the basket and got Maryland into its offense just fine.

“I thought his decision-making was much better tonight,” Turgeon said. “He missed the one layup that he normally would make. He’s getting closer to 100 percent. We felt like he could exploit his matchup off the dribble. He did that. The good thing is he finished [the game].”

Said Wells: “He’s fine. He’s getting better. He’s doing things that we need him to do right now, which is score. He’s still a young player. He’s still 18 years old. The further along we get into the season and in conference play, stuff like that, expect him for really to be playing his best basketball. He missed a lot of games so far but he’ll be fine.”

Allen played a season-high 35 minutes Saturday night while Roddy Peters appeared for just five, all in the first half. Peters’s time has nosedived since Notre Dame and he has played just 23 minutes over the past three games.

>> Jake Layman broke free from an extended slump, curling off a screen to hit a beautiful midrange jumper to start the game and finishing with 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting. He hadn’t topped 14 points since Dec. 14 against Florida Atlantic, when he scored 22.

“I think it was being more patient and waiting for the right time to take my shot,” Layman said. “I was hitting tonight, getting good rebounds and making good cuts. It was nice for me to finally score some buckets.”

>> Charles Mitchell fouled out 13 minutes into the second half, just the second time in the sophomore forward’s career. Both, however, have come over the past four games. Also, five days after grabbing 18 rebounds against North Carolina State, he was shutout for the first time since coming to College Park in 2012.

Speaking of rebounds, in Turgeon’s words the Terps were “whipped on the boards tonight.” They finished at minus-nine and rebounded just 18.2 percent of misses on the offensive end, their second-lowest single-game rate of the season.

>> Per KenPom.com, it was the fastest-paced game Maryland had played all year, barely beating out the BB&T Classic loss to George Washington. The Terps also became just one of six teams to top 1.00 points per possession versus Pittsburgh.

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