With both final exams and a string of uninterrupted practices in the rear-view mirror, the Maryland men’s basketball team now must refocus on an opponent Coach Mark Turgeon has been worried about since this offseason.
Stony Brook enters Friday night’s matchup with the Terrapins at 8-2 — its best 10-game start to a season since it joined Division I in 1999 — and on a four-game winning streak. The Seawolves have won all but one of its six road games and may be a pesky test for Turgeon’s bunch, which itself is riding a nine-game winning streak but has struggled with youthful inconsistencies at times.
Maryland has been running two-a-day practices since its last game, a 33-point blowout of Monmouth on Dec. 12, but took a few days off and most recently been unable to practice on Comcast Center’s main floor because of the school’s December graduation ceremony. That, coupled with the mental grind of exams on a team rotating four freshmen and two transfers, has Turgeon slightly concerned entering Maryland’s biggest challenge before ACC play.
“It’s all how you approach it,” Turgeon said Thursday via teleconference. “Every team’s different. If you have a veteran team they’ve been through it before, they can handle finals better. The good thing for us is we’re playing a good team. Nationally, people who don’t follow college basketball might not know how good Stony Brook is. But we do, our coaches do. I don’t know how well we’ll play.”
Over the nine-day break since posting a season-high 23 turnovers against the Hawks, the Terps have tweaked their offense and worked on being more careful with the basketball. But the miscues have continued in practice, leaving Turgeon once again baffled as to why his team isn’t progressing as quickly as anticipated.
With this Maryland team, Turgeon said, his plan changes daily. During the final-exam period, he noticed fatigue and axed a two-a-day in favor of one longer practice. Freshmen like Jake Layman and Shaquille Cleare are still working through the learning curve, though Turgeon singled out both Seth Allen and senior transfer Logan Aronhalt for their improvements.
“The young guys, it’s like a little kid, you wonder how do they keep going and going and have all this energy all the time,” junior point guard Pe’Shon Howard said Thursday. “Some days you kind of see during the stretch where they might be struggling with a little fatigue, but they always bounce back and they always have the energy. They’re excited to be in this situation, be in college. I think they’re happy to get the first semester done and move towards the conference play.”
The chemistry and enthusiasm among the Terrapins have made coaching this team a pleasurable experience for Turgeon, but he still speculates about their immaturity stunting potential improvements.
“I’m disappointed because we haven’t improved at the rate I thought we’d improve at,” Turgeon said. “Maybe that’s my fault. The last three games, the competition didn’t get the guys excited. I think Stony Brook does get us excited to play.”
With only Stony Brook, Delaware State and IUPUI remaining before Virginia Tech comes to College Park on Jan. 5 for the outset of ACC play, the Terps know that playing mistake-free against the Seawolves would go far in alleviating Turgeon’s trepidations.
“I think Coach is really worried about the game, because he knows how good this team is,” Howard said. “This is a good test for us to prove to him that we’re working hard and getting better.”