During difficult times, Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon leans on some of his mentors. And with the way things are going for Turgeon, he needs as much help as he can get.
In his third season in College Park, Turgeon is struggling to find a winning formula. After a couple of clunkers in nonconference play — good teams don’t lose to both Oregon State and Boston University on their home court — the Terrapins are fading fast in their final season in the ACC, which isn’t the closing act Turgeon envisioned.
It only got worse for Turgeon on Saturday night in an 83-79 loss to No. 20 Pittsburgh. Playing in front of a supportive crowd of 17,202, the largest at Comcast Center this season, the Terrapins provided little reason for optimism about the rest of the season.
The Terrapins did too many things poorly — 17 turnovers and missing 13 of 17 three-point attempts will sink you every time — to defeat strong, smart Pittsburgh and dropped to 1-4 in their past five games. The most troubling aspect of Maryland’s disappointing performance, however, is that such struggles have become the norm in College Park under Turgeon.
Despite the bad situation he inherited — former coach Gary Williams didn’t leave him much to build with — this is Turgeon’s team. He recruited the Terrapins’ top players and is running the program his way. Right now, that’s not good enough — and Turgeon knows it.
“We’re not where we want to be. We should be further along,” Turgeon acknowledged. “We’re all frustrated. I’m extremely frustrated. . . . But I believe in what I do. I’ve been taught well. What I do works — and it’s going to work here.”
That’s essentially what Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, whom Turgeon both played for and coached under at Kansas, told Turgeon after Maryland flopped on the road Monday against North Carolina State, which was playing without ACC-leading scorer T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack had only one conference victory before it outplayed the Terrapins in the second half, turning a 11-point deficit into a nine-point win. There’s no sugarcoating it: Losing to the Wolfpack was another major setback for the Terrapins, who after Saturday’s loss dropped to 11-9 overall and 3-4 in the ACC.
Before the season began, the Terrapins expected to be in the mix for an NCAA tournament berth. But the Terrapins first must prove they can play 40 minutes of effective basketball before they can even think about playing meaningful games in March. No wonder Turgeon has been burning up the phone lines.
“You just have to keep doing what you believe in,” Turgeon said. “You have to keep believing in your value system.”
Like most coaches, Turgeon values strong point guard play. The Terrapins haven’t gotten enough of it.
Starter Seth Allen, who isn’t a true point guard but was forced into the role before the season because Turgeon didn’t have any other experienced options, still is regaining form after missing Maryland’s first 12 games because of a fractured left foot. In Allen’s absence, four other players have run the offense. Too often, the Terrapins have appeared rudderless.
“Hopefully, we’ll get Seth back to 100 percent” soon, Turgeon said. “He’s still not there . . . but we should be playing better than we are. Ultimately, it’s my job to get us playing better.”
Early on in Saturday’s game, the Terrapins showed some encouraging signs. They shared the basketball, set solid screens, shot well and raced to a 9-2 lead. Then Pittsburgh (18-2, 6-1) overcame its early road jitters and controlled the game. The final score was that close only because the Panthers went ice cold from the line late in the game.
Afterward, Turgeon remained upbeat. He’s getting good at putting a positive spin on things in public. He’s also confident behind closed doors, Maryland officials say. Although the results don’t show it yet, Turgeon is building the program the right way, he believes.
From Brown and others, Turgeon learned that creating something that lasts is what matters most. He’s not the quick-fix type. “You don’t just sign players to sign players,” Turgeon said. “You sign good players.
“We’ve signed some good ones, but we haven’t been able to get to 13 scholarships yet. Hopefully, next year we’ll be at 13 scholarships. . . . But no excuses. We have to play better, and I have to get us to play better.”
I like that Turgeon has taken responsibility for the Terrapins’ failure. Many coaches in a similar position would say all the right things while cameras are rolling — then rip players off the record. Even when my tape recorder was off, Turgeon shouldered it all.
Turgeon could have lamented the early departure of center Alex Len, who gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to enter the 2013 NBA draft and was chosen fifth overall by the Phoenix Suns. Undoubtedly, Turgeon’s job would be easier if the lottery pick still was on Maryland’s roster, “but I knew Alex was gonna leave. He had to leave,” Turgeon said. “He was a top pick. I’m happy for Alex. . . . You want your players to do well.”
It appears Turgeon has some good ones coming in. The Terrapins’ four-player recruiting class for next season is ranked among the top 10 by recruiting services. Turgeon looks forward to getting help down the road, but he remains focused on the current group.
“Are the players down? Yeah. But they know they need to get better and we’re all in this together,” Turgeon said. “I go back to the way I learned to do this and what the people who have watched my team for 16 years tell me. I know we’re doing this the right way.”
And if the Terrapins somehow get it turned around this season, Turgeon and his mentors would finally have something good to talk about.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.