Nick Faust sat towards the front of Maryland’s bench, somewhere near Coach Mark Turgeon and his assistants, enduring a nearly six-minute rest in the Terps’ 67-45 blowout Monday night against Morehead State. It was one of those nights, Turgeon later said, that he turned to his left, glanced at his players not on the floor and muttered to himself, “Oh my gosh, Nick’s been sitting out. I’ve got to get Nick back in the game.”
That those thoughts even crossed Turgeon’s mind says plenty about how deep this Maryland basketball team has become in such a short time. Faust led the Terps with a game-high 12 points, and yet remained on the bench for a substantial period in the second half. Unlike the season-opener against Kentucky, when Faust was absent for the stretch run most likely due to cramps and cold shooting early in Brooklyn, this benching didn’t result from anything negative.
Turgeon simply had too many effective players to rotate. The depth became a luxury.
“Thank god we have depth because I think some guys got tired pretty quickly,” Turgeon said. “There are some guys who aren’t in great shape right now. They don’t practice hard enough to be in great shape. They don’t practice hard every day. But it was evident that we wore [Morehead State] down.”
Eagles point guard Devon Atkinson played a game-high 34 minutes, including 19 in the first half, and simply ran out of gas as Turgeon sent waves of substitutes onto the floor, flooding the visitors with fresh legs all evening. Ten players saw at least 13 minutes. Though none took more than seven shots, 10 Terps scored. It was total balance at its finest, sustained aggression that left Morehead State exhausted, especially after a flurry of pressure early in the second half was met with little progress.
And so Turgeon was left with a dilemma. A lineup of Faust, Shaquille Cleare, Charles Mitchell, Jake Layman and Pe’Shon Howard had the Terps up 58-37 midway through the second half, but Turgeon made a four-man switch, rotating in Alex Len, James Padgett, Dez Wells and Logan Aronhalt.
In a big game, Turgeon said, he might not make these hockey-like line changes. But when the inevitable injury or sickness or drought comes down the road, the Terps will be glad.
“The hardest thing for me to today was getting guys in the game,” he said. “Guys were playing good and I had to take them out. Our guys all have great attitudes about it. James Padgett played 13 minutes and it was 13 really good minutes. That allowed me to play Charles and Shaq. It helps our team in the long run.”
Len added 11 points and seven rebounds to compliment Faust’s 4 of 6 shooting night, while Padgett added nine. Wells and Padgett each had eight. Layman, a freshman, had seven points and point guard Seth Allen had six. Howard didn’t attempt a shot in 23 minutes but had seven assists. Mitchell tallied a game-high nine rebounds and Cleare broke out the rejection machine with three enormous blocks that sailed into the Comcast Center seats.
Even with 20 turnovers, bad passes and booted loose balls, the Terps were, at times, firing at their true potential, especially on the defensive end. But having a 10-man rotation affords Turgeon the treat of withstanding growing pains. Faust said it helps keep the players honest. One mistake can mean a quick hook, with so many capable teammates waiting in the wings.
“It’s really good,” Wells said. “You don’t have to overexert yourself trying to play a load of minutes. We have great guys who can come off the bench and provide really, really good support for us, and just come in, go after it just as good as the starting five did. That’s as good as anything. Our bench could start at any college team. They’re that good. Coach Turgeon did a great job recruiting, as did the other coaches, and that speaks volumes about how good a coach he is and the belief we have in him. …
“The camaraderie with this team, it’s second to none that I’ve ever played on. Maybe one of the best teams I’ve ever played on. Coach Turgeon really didn’t have to tell us that. We take a bad shot in practice, he doesn’t have to correct us. We correct ourselves. We tell each other, hey, we can get a better shot than that. And we want to be great.”
With depth like this, greatness doesn’t seem so far off.