Last season, Coach Mark Turgeon at times seemed like a particularly bewildered chemist, throwing waves of substitutions on the court in the hopes that something stuck. He had 10 Maryland men’s basketball regulars, which meant 10 players in need of minutes and 10 bodies to manage. Sometimes, it left the Terrapins fresh. Others, it created a jumbled mess.
As the calendar turns and the ACC home opener against Georgia Tech approaches, Turgeon has finally found the depth for which he has begged since point guard Seth Allen broke his foot during the preseason. A 70-56 win over North Carolina Central on New Years’ Eve saw eight players score at least five points and, for the first time all season, no one played more than 28 minutes.
“I can’t explain it,” Turgeon said, and then he managed to find the words. Having Allen back opens up the rotation, allowing Turgeon to be less tolerant of defensive mistakes and easing the burden once levied onto workhorses like Dez Wells, Jake Layman and Nick Faust.
“It gives us depth,” Turgeon said. “Guys don’t have to play. I can take guys out for making mistakes defensively, hold them more accountable. It’s been good.”
If Turgeon and the Terps are to be believed, they are 2-0 after wiping the slate clean over Christmas. Of course, bad non-conference losses to Boston University and Oregon State won’t be ignored come Selection Sunday – in fact, they will hurt Maryland – but right now the players won’t allow their minds to wander beyond Georgia Tech. Beating North Carolina Central, the MEAC favorites which topped North Carolina State by 10 points on the road this season, was one more small step in the slow march back to relevancy.
“I think we’re going in the right direction,” said guard Nick Faust, who matched a career-high with 19 points and was instrumental in limiting Jeremy Ingram, the nation’s third-leading scorer, to a season-low 11 points on 4 of 19 shooting.
All the pieces, it seems, are falling into place. The Terps still committed too many first-half turnovers (11 by intermission), but made 18 of 22 free throws, blocked eight shots and shot 54.5 percent in the second half.
Allen, while still not in top playing shape – Turgeon predicted another three weeks before the sophomore point guard returns to 100 percent – has “changed things,” Turgeon said. Faust has embraced and excelled in his new role as a sparkplug off the bench, avoiding the wild shot attempts that defined his November to torch the Eagles on an efficient 5 for 11 outing.
“That’s nothing surprising to us,” Wells said. “We’ve seen how good Nick can be. He’s starting to come along. He’s working really hard, he’s doing extra workouts and stuff like that. Going into ACC play, we all know we have to raise our level of ACC play. All we have to do is support him, make sure his head’s on straight, make sure he’s in tune with everything we’re doing and we’ll be fine.”
Even the frontcourt, once a source of constant maladies, was better when junior transfer Jonathan Graham slid into the lineup for his first start at Maryland. Sophomore Charles Mitchell added seven rebounds and five points in 22 minutes, demonstrating what Turgeon called a new commitment to defense.
“I like [this team] a lot better today than I did 10 days ago,” Turgeon said. “I’ll say that. We’re not looking backwards. We’re just looking forward. That’s the whole thing. We’ve got such a tough schedule and a good schedule ahead of us that it’s in our control. Got a good Georgia Tech team coming in here. Defensively as a coach I feel more comfortable as a team. I know our execution is going to get better as we move forward.”