With eight players averaging at least 6.0 points through nine games this season, the Maryland basketball team certainly has no dearth of viable scoring options across its deep 10-man rotation. But as ACC play creeps closer, the conference opener against Virginia Tech on Jan. 5 just around the corner, Coach Mark Turgeon is still searching for an ever-elusive lineup of consistency.
Turgeon started his third different lineup over the past three games, giving Logan Aronhalt and Charles Mitchell their first starts this season alongside regulars Alex Len, Pe’Shon Howard and Nick Faust, all of whom came off the bench against Maryland-Eastern Shore when Shaquille Cleare, Jake Layman and Seth Allen were tabbed.
The rotation continues to be a work in progress for these Terrapins. At times Turgeon will line-change in five players at once, while other things he’ll trickle in subs, tinkering more slowly like he did during Saturday’s 61-46 win over South Carolina State when Turgeon never entered more than two players at one time until emptying his bench with Conner Lipinski, Jacob Susskind and Spencer Barks in garbage time.
With Monmouth coming to town next Wednesday, Maryland can expect a semblance to normalcy with the starters, whatever that may be. It would be safe to assume, however, that until any of the four freshmen start demonstrating consistency across multiple games, the lineup will likely return to what it was for the season’s first seven games.
“What I would like to do, I’d like to get more guys, five or six or seven guys I can count on every night to play well, 90 percent of the nights,” Turgeon said. “That’s what I’ll look for over the next four home games leading into ACC play.”
Monmouth and Stony Brook will certainly pose greater challenges than UMES and South Carolina State moving forward, but they’re not exactly ACC-caliber opponents either. And so Turgeon can afford to keep searching for consistency, especially among his young bench.
“We’re so young,” Turgeon said. “So many new guys, so many new experiences. We were up for the game, we had one guy who wasn’t ready. I thought we were playing hard. We just weren’t ready for them using [that delay offense], we hadn’t seen it in any of their games. If we could have just made some shots, it would have looked prettier and they would have had to play quicker. I’m not concerned.”
Mitchell turned in his second career double-double against UMES but disappeared altogether on Saturday, playing a season-low eight minutes and drawing criticism from Turgeon for not being “ready to play.” Turgeon stuck with Layman for an eight-minute stretch in the second half, allowing the freshman to work through his kinks, but also yanked him after just over a minute in the first half following a bad turnover.
Allen continues to provide a spark with his energy and shooting, but until he hones his point guard skills more, he won’t start over Howard. Cleare, who actually struggled to catch up to the college game early this season, has turned in two straight solid efforts this past week, averaging 10.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in 19.0 minutes against UMES and South Carolina State.
There’s a distinction to be made here, however. Turgeon’s not looking for a go-to scorer, though Alex Len and Dez Wells certainly provide potent options. The balance has served Maryland well, and will continue to do so entering ACC play, especially in grind-it-out type of games where the bench’s performance will play a crucial role.
Rather, Turgeon is searching for a rotational backbone, five starters plus a couple reserves who begin to perform consistently, so if things turn sour Turgeon won’t have to waste time tinkering with lineups until something clicks. He’s also been blessed with a totally selfless bunch, knowing full well that starting lineups and statistics mean zilch compared to winning.
“Nobody cares about who scores the points, nobody cares about the Terp of the Week, that stuff,” said Dez Wells, the reigning Terp of the Week. “That’s good for the team, and that’s good for the school, because they’re really behind us, but as ta team we’re not worried about the accolades, we just want to win. Whether somebody scores 50 points or somebody doesn’t score at all, we’ll continue to pick that person up.”