Maryland treated its second half against Duke on Jan. 26 like a two-minute drill. The Terrapins rushed ill-advised attempts early in the shot clock, watching their eight-point deficit gradually expand before a raucous crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium. At the letdown’s epicenter was Nick Faust, the sophomore guard who finished with just nine points on 12 shots, his most attempts since jacking up 14 in the season opener against Kentucky. He retooled his shooting form this offseason, but it certainly didn’t show, as deep three-pointers in transition and mid-range jumpers alike clanged off the rim.
Faust has become a different player ever since. As Coach Mark Turgeon’s search for viable point guard fell, by default, on the Baltimore native, Faust has become more patient within the system and a better floor general. His scoring has fallen by the wayside, but so have his attempts. Through Faust’s first six ACC games, discounting the Virginia Tech game on Jan. 5 when he played only five minutes with back spasms, he averaged 9.2 field goal attempts per game. Over the past three, after stepping into the starting point guard role, Faust has averaged just 5.3.
“Since he’s really slowed down, we’ve become a much better team,” Turgeon said. “You think about the second half at Duke, the way he played and the way we played, and how he’s tried to play since, we’re a much better basketball team. I obviously have a lot of confidence in him, otherwise I wouldn’t be playing him, wouldn’t be starting him.”
At times, Faust appeared on either end of the mental spectrum – either over-thinking situations that compounded the issues or entering a singular operational mode, where shooting seemed to be his only option.
“Nick’s played one way his whole life, and now he’s trying to play a different way,” Turgeon said. “It’s hard on him. But the way he was playing wasn’t good for our team. I just have to have shooters on the floor. And I have a lot of confidence in Nick. He has some experience.”
Given Maryland’s offensive struggles, Turgeon likes to keep either Jake Layman or Logan Aronhalt on the floor at any given time, simply to space the perimeter and provide a deep shooting option. Pe’Shon Howard’s minutes have suffered as a result, while the Great Dez Wells Point Guard Experiment also appears to be over.
Faust’s numbers aren’t exactly stellar. He sports a 1.2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio through 10 conference games and has only reached double figures twice. But as his teammates settle into their sometimes-limited roles – Howard as a pass-first, defensive-minded bench player or Aronhalt as a three-point shooter come to mind – Faust must do the same.
“I thought he really played well against Florida State in the second half,” Aronhalt said. “Then kind of up and down from there. Slowly but sure he’s been getting better for us at the point. It’s good to have him out there, as a scoring threat. When we have the three guards out there, we’re so much better around the perimeter.”
Faust started against Virginia Tech on Thursday night guarding Erick Green, and did fairly well in the half-court offense. In the opening 7:31, Green attempted just three field goals, missing two jumpers and sticking a mid-range step-back that few could have defended. For another two-minute span with Faust in the game, Green didn’t attempt a field goal. After Seth Allen fouled Green on an and-one layup for the second time, Faust subbed back in and kept him to two free throws and a three-pointer in transition until halftime rolled around.
All told, for the 22 minutes Faust played, Green shot 5 of 12 from the field and scored 16 points, including a steal-and-two-free-throws resulting from a Wells turnover late in the second half. All came on either contested jumpers, transition three-pointers when Green leaked into the corner or free throws. None came on layups.
Turgeon has long considered Faust’s defense to be a sore point, but it seems that he’s coming around on that, too.
“For sure,” Faust said, when asked if he feels like a different player. “Bouncing around a lot just throws you off at times. You just have to get tuned and try to do what you can, get things going for the team and get guys involved and things like that.
“I’ve slowed down offensively. I’m at the point guard spot, getting other guys going, just making adjustments to it.”
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