Here comes the Maryland basketball team, now on the second day of a nine-day break between non-conference games, owners of a confounding paradox that, upon closer inspection, doesn’t seem too wild after all.

The Terrapins rank third nationally with 18.8 assists per game. They also rank 274th nationally with 15.8 turnovers per game. So they’re adept at unselfishness, giving passes away to teammates and opponents alike. And that’s why these statistics aren’t mutually exclusive by any stretch. After a sloppy 71-38 win over Monmouth, in which Maryland had a season-best margin of victory but also set a season-high with 23 turnovers, Coach Mark Turgeon called the discrepancy a “disconnect” that he must “figure out.”

But most of the Terps’ giveaways against the Hawks came from trying to make the extra pass. It was Pe’Shon Howard making ill-advised alley-oops when he should have backed out and run the offense. It was Seth Allen twice zipping post entry passes past Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell, and twice trying to dish in transition when he should have drawn contact at the rim.

Maryland’s players aren’t getting their pockets picked frequently enough to warrant concern. Rather, the turnover issues stem from passing.

“It’s just a matter of making the easy play, like I said,” Dez Wells said. “We just have to make the easy play. Sometimes we get caught up in doing too much. That’s selfish. I’m guilty of that myself. I’m selfish at times with trying to make the home-run play instead of the easy pass. That’s something I have to learn, something I want to get better at every day. It comes with time.”

By no means is this a suggestion that the Terps should revert to the ways of Turgeon’s inaugural season, when passes were deficient. Maryland’s offensive success derives from crisp looks, finding the secondary cutter when the primary fails. Midway through second half against Monmouth, Wells hammered an alley-oop off a cross-court Nick Faust feed, a beautiful, smooth display of potency from this bunch. Howard, who began that break with another cross-court past to Faust, leads the ACC with 6.0 assists per game. Seth Allen is eighth with 3.7.

Alex Len has also proved himself a capable passer from the high post, often finding cutters when defenses double him, and Faust has vastly improved his decision-making on the break.

And so the mistakes are not catching passes, succumbing to a lack of focus of youthful tendencies. In other words, very fixable things.

“We’re going to work a lot on execution,” Len said. “We played really good defense, I think we played tough, but we have to execute better. We need to make smarter decisions. We have to play smarter, be stronger with the ball, get rid of those stupid turnovers. I think maybe because we’re young, a really young team. That’s my personal opinion.”

It seems that Turgeon will weather the turnover issue for now, if only because the baseline altruism is there. Last season, when the Terps ranked 308th nationally in assists, Turgeon kept wondering, “Is this normal? Are five assists a game normal?” Maryland had a 45.6 assist percentage in 2011-12, the only time a Turgeon-coached team has ever had a team below 51 percent.

Chart: Assist percentages by Turgeon-coached teams

Team (season)


Field goals

Assist percentage

Maryland (2012-13, thru 10 games)




Maryland (2011-12)




Texas A&M (2010-11)




Texas A&M (2009-10)




Texas A&M (2008-09)




Texas A&M (2007-08)




Wichita State (2006-07)




Wichita State (2005-06)




Wichita State (2004-05)




Wichita State (2003-04)




Wichita State (2002-03)




Wichita State (2001-02)




Wichita State (2000-01)




Jacksonville St. (1999-2000)




Jacksonville St. (1998-1999)




* = Reached NCAA tournament

This season? The Terps have assisted on an absurd 69.1 percent of field goals, the highest of Turgeon-coached team, which included a brutally efficient Wichita State program that only dipped below a 62 percent assist percentage once in seven seasons (59.8 percent in 2001-02). Maryland has already tallied 55.5 percent of its entire assist total from last season (188 versus 339).

“That being said, we have a very good passing team,” Turgeon said, albeit before the Monmouth game. “Two games ago, I think we had 14 turnovers, but our point guards and guards only had five or six of them. What Pe’Shon’s doing, even Seth Allen, their assist-to-turnover ratio has been really nice. Nick’s much better this year.

“Since we’ve jumped Dez about his turnovers, the last two games he’s really done a good job. I’m really pleased at the way they’re sharing the basketball. Coaches who come to practice, they say, ‘Coach, you’re really sharing the ball.’”

On Tuesday, Turgeon said that this Maryland group scores better than any of the four NCAA tournament teams he coached with the Aggies, and much of that stems from a top-to-bottom indifference to scoring statistics.

“There’s not a selfish player on this team,” Cleare said. “We just have to keep sharing the ball. That’s how we’re getting a lot of victories right now.”

Based on a personal film review of the Monmouth game, the Terps had 16 possessions where they completed five or more passes. They scored on nine of those possessions counting free throws and had open looks on 12. Contrast that to the 20 possessions where Maryland made one or zero passes, which resulted in 11 turnovers, two offensive fouls and eight open looks (five field goals).

Obviously it’s a small sample size, and the Terps excel in the open court, but once they settle into the half-court offense, they’re vastly superior with quick rotations, breaking down the defense with passing to find open looks. Most of Maryland’s turnovers came on bad passes early in possessions, trying to rush things too soon.

“We just need to focus on making the easy play,” Wells said. “That’s something that will come. It’s just a matter of when we’re ready to take that next step, when we force ourselves into that next step, that’s the biggest thing for us right now. We’re not playing our full potential, I don’t feel. We have to stop letting each other down and cut the turnovers down, or we won’t maximize our full potential.”