The Maryland men’s basketball team was traveling home to College Park late Friday night when Coach Mark Turgeon began thinking about the takeaways from the season opener. The Terrapins had lost to Connecticut by one point, so that part still stung. But they had also mounted a furious rally, overcoming an abysmal first half to climb back into a game they had no business being in. As the train chugged south into Baltimore, Turgeon pondered which part deserved the most focus.
“I think you take both,” he said Tuesday. “There’s a reason we were down 17 and there’s a reason we came back.”
Wednesday evening’s home opener against Abilene Christian will not challenge the Terps (0-1) much. Because the Wildcats are transitioning into Division I, the game will not even count against Maryland’s RPI. But the game will give Turgeon and his players the opportunity to experiment, improve and shake off the 78-77 defeat against the 18th-ranked Huskies.
Chief among the tinkering Turgeon has planned involves lessening the load for Dez Wells. Recently named to the Wooden Award preseason watch list, the junior committed six turnovers on Friday and missed two potentially game-winning shots, all while handling starting point guard responsibilities.
Against speedy guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, Wells had his first test as the replacement for starter Seth Allen (broken foot). Maryland not only lost Allen to injury, Turgeon said, but by moving Wells away from his traditional swingman spot, it lost “almost half” of him as well. The third-year coach declined to provide specifics, only mentioning “small, subtle things” to help Wells.
This could mean more minutes for freshman Roddy Peters, or calling upon former walk-on Varun Ram. In any case, Turgeon knows Wells operates best on the wing, barreling downhill in transition or curling off screens toward the rim in half-court offense.
“I’ve got to figure out a way to get guys in their natural positions, where they’re comfortable and what’s best for the team,” Turgeon said. “Dez is still going to play point guard, he’s going to play a lot of point guard, but I’ve also got to get him off the ball where he can really help us.”
Against Connecticut, Maryland was both overzealous with its shot selection and careless with the ball, which taken together kept the Terps fighting from behind that entire night.
“I think the biggest thing is we can’t come out the way we did and expect to win games, especially against good teams,” forward Evan Smotrycz said. “We need to come out and execute and establish the way we’re going to play right off the jump and not take so long, because we dig ourselves a big hole. It’s tough to come back from.”
Forward Charles Mitchell played just 20 minutes against the Huskies but contributed 12 bench points on 5-of-6 shooting. He was disappointed that he only grabbed three rebounds, but conceded the strong start could serve as a personal springboard, much like Maryland hopes its second half against U-Conn. will do for the team at large.
“It just shows how mentally tough we are and how good our team could be if we focus on the little things, and make the extra plays and the correct plays,” he said.
With Mitchell and his roommate, center Shaquille Cleare, Turgeon has yet another decision to make. Cleare labored through 19 minutes against the Huskies, managing just four points and one rebound despite starting. Despite raving about Cleare’s effort during most media sessions, the sophomore’s practice improvements have not quite aligned with his in-game performance since arriving in College Park last summer.
Turgeon spent all weekend thinking about what to extract from the opener. But asked whether he would start Mitchell or Cleare, for once he had no answer.
“That’s a great question,” Turgeon said. “I haven’t decided yet.”