Mark Turgeon paused during his news conference on Friday, reaching below the table and bringing a water bottle to his lips. Coughing intermittently, Maryland’s coach had a good excuse for his mid-question drink.
“Excuse me,” Turgeon said, approaching the punchline with his usual deadpanned candor. “I’ve been yelling a lot.”
Plenty was upsetting during Maryland’s 65-62 loss to Florida State on Wednesday, but lingering on its first defeat since the season opener would distract from game-planning Sunday’s matchup at Miami. And there’s plenty to scout.
Since losing consecutive games in late December, the Hurricanes have hit their stride, starting 2-0 in ACC play for the first time in school history. With monster center Reggie Johnson sidelined with a thumb injury, a host of savvy veterans have filled the void. Kenny Kadji, a fifth-year senior, exploded Thursday against North Carolina for 18 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and three assists. Julian Gamble, a rotational regular, is a sixth-year senior, while Durand Scott (team-leading 14.4 points per game) and Trey McKinney-Jones (9.5 points per game) are both seniors.
Add in sophomore guard Shane Larkin, who’s averaging 12.7 points and 3.6 assists per game this season, and the Terrapins are in for another physical battle against another experienced opponent.
“You’re playing pups sometimes against grown men, and that’s going to be really what we have to overcome,” Turgeon said. “If you look at the game the other night, the guys that made the plays for Florida State were veteran guys. We don’t have any guys who did that. Pe’Shon [Howard] didn’t play well and James [Padgett] wasn’t a big part of the game. That’s your biggest worry going into Miami. They have guys who have been playing forever, and we have puppies.
“Offensively, those two guards are just great. Scott and Larkin and Jim [Larranaga, Miaim’s coach] lets them play, puts them in ball screens, those kids make plays. [Rion] Brown and McKinney-Jones shooting the ball like they’re throwing it in the ocean, making everything right now. They’re confident, got a nice team. Playing six guys who are smart players, know their roles. Nice turnaround since the holiday tournament they played in. Come back, gotten healthy, playing smarter and playing better. Shooting the ball better. Really that’s the difference. Figuring out how to guard them will be difficult.”
Maryland’s puppies, a 10-man rotation featuring four freshmen and three sophomores, might run up-tempo in South Beach, trying to accelerate the pace and wear down Larranaga’s six-man rotation.
“Larkin’s going to play 37 minutes, so if we are going to hang around and make it a close game, you’d like to tire their legs out,” Turgeon said. “Something we’ve talked about. Their guards are so good, we’ll see if we can speed it up. We’re still putting the game plan together.”
The Terps struggled to get out and run against Florida State, notching just five fast-break points, but can be deadly in transition with finishers like Dez Wells.
“We’ll continue to run,” Turgeon said. “We’ve been running on every miss, steal, quite a few makes, just get the pace going. We’ll see with that. I just want us to play better. You want to get the bad taste. You just want to play well, execute like they’re supposed to execute, play with toughness.”
That toughness, Turgeon said, disappeared in the second half against the Seminoles, when Okaro White scored 15 straight points and kept plenty more possessions alive with offensive rebounds. Florida State is a little more aggressive defensively than Miami, but the Hurricanes are still holding opponents to just 37 percent from the field.
“They’re an aggressive team,” Wells said. “They beat North Carolina at North Carolina. That’s tough to do. I’m ready to get this game going, see how we respond on the road, it’ll be a lot tougher. My first ACC road game, so I’m just focused on getting a win.
“They’ve been playing six guys the whole year, so it won’t be like the first game where they wear down in the first half. It’ll be a constant battle, and if we fight through the adversity we’re going through, we’ll be fine.”