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Maryland vs. George Mason: Mark Turgeon, Paul Hewitt look to avoid sophomore slumps

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It’s the sophomore season for both Mark Turgeon and Paul Hewitt, which is appropriate considering how many sophomores — and freshmen — both coaches are relying on this season.

Sunday, at Verizon Center, Turgeon’s Terrapins beat Hewitt’s Patriots, 69-62, in the second game of the BB&T Classic. After the game, the coaches shared a handshake and a few words, probably of encouragement. They have a lot in common besides coaching teams in the Washington area. Each is in his second season of replacing legends at his school — Gary Williams at Maryland, Jim Larranaga at Mason — and each is trying to satisfy a fan base with high expectations while putting youngsters on the court.

Of the two, Hewitt inherited more talent, in the person of Ryan Pearson, the CAA player of the year last season and an honorable mention all-American. The Patriots were 24-9, 14-4 in the CAA last year. Pearson is gone, though, and Sunday’s loss dropped them to 5-3 this season.

Turgeon, well, Turgeon’s inheritance was a bare cupboard — and he had to sell the cupboard to pay the estate tax. But he managed a respectable 17-15 record last season, and is 6-1 this season, with his only loss to Kentucky.

Both are well-regarded as coaches, recruiters and teachers, which will help when both are tested by their young rosters. Turgeon started three sophomores Sunday and of the 10 players he uses consistently, four more are freshmen. Hewitt started just one sophomore, but had six underclassmen among the 10 players he used Sunday and reserve freshman guard Patrick Holloway’s 17 points tied for the team lead.

Hewitt was happy with Holloway’s output but questioned his team’s shot selection and decision-making. Asked if he liked some of his team’s outside looks, he gave a terse “No.” So we know what the Patriots will be working on in practice Monday.

Hewitt praised Turgeon and the Terps, and Turg returned the favor. “This was a good win for us,” he said. “George Mason is an excellent team that is going to win a lot of games. They have an excellent coach.”

As for what the Terps can expect on Monday? “As a coach I’ve go to figure out how to quit turning the ball over,” he said, admitting that “it took us awhile to get used to their quickness.”

Verizon Center was only about half full — the announced crowd was 10,256 — so if BB&T organizers were hoping to persuade Turgeon to continue Maryland’s association with the tournament, attendance will not be a persuasive argument. If two area teams with large student bodies and alumni bases can’t fill Verizon Center on a dry and temperate non-Redskins Sunday, when can they?

Asked about the small crowd, Turgeon was quick to call it “loud,” then said he hoped to be back next year. “It’s for a good cause,” he said of the tournament, which raises money for children’s charities, but added. “We’ve also got to take care of Maryland.”

Fans that were there were unusually sluggish, although all Terp red and Mason green was a nice holiday touch. The crowd came to life late in the first half, when Mason — which had trailed by as many as nine — pulled within a point, 31-30. Otherwise, the crowd shots on the scoreboard showed mostly moribund spectators — Yawn Cam replaces Kiss Cam! — until the more see-saw second half.

Each team acted its age — Mason shot just 31 percent from the field; Maryland committed 19 turnovers. Mason’s bench outscored Maryland’s, 25-8. The Terps outrebounded the Patriots, 49-34.

Stats, of course, tell only part of the story. Games in November and December often are little more than dress rehearsals. A smooth transition game, seamless passing, prudent shot selection — all of that comes with time together, if it comes at all. However, signs are promising that both teams will be more cohesive by February and March, when it matters. Both programs, at least, are in good hands.

“We’ll keep getting better,” Hewitt said. “We’re going to be a good team,” Turgeon echoed. “We’re not there yet.”

Pretty big talk for a couple of sophomores.

For previous Tracee Hamilton columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

Read more college basketball coverage: George Washington tops Manhattan Box score: GW 67, Manhattan 55 Wells leads Maryland past George Mason Box score: Maryland 69, George Mason 62

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