Without Fernando, who could dominate opponents in the paint and draw double teams that left teammates open on the perimeter, Turgeon said he’s not yet pleased with this season’s offense, which sometimes feels as if it’s “jacking threes up the whole game.”
Maryland’s options in the frontcourt behind Smith are all young: sophomore Ricky Lindo Jr., freshman twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell and 6-7 freshman Donta Scott. With Lindo contributing up-and-down performances thus far and the Mitchells sometimes flashing their inexperience, Scott has been the most frequent contributor among this group. Praised for his toughness, Scott has played well, but he gives Maryland a small lineup compared with other Big Ten teams and to the Terps with their previous pair of 6-10 big men, Fernando and Smith.
Additional interior help could come through Maryland’s 7-2 freshman center, Chol Marial. He is recovering from surgery in early September to repair stress fractures in both legs. Turgeon said this week that Marial’s recovery has moved a bit slower than the team would have liked. Marial continues his gradual progress and could play deeper into the conference schedule.
As far as developing a post-up game, Turgeon said: “It’s a process for us as the season goes on. There is only so much kids can grasp, and we’ve had so many games.”
The loss to Penn State was the Terps’ sixth game in 13 days, and Turgeon said before the matchup: “It’s hard to add things. You’re just trying to learn from film and get better and keep your energy up.”
But now Turgeon has a 24-day stretch with only two games, and one of those is against Bryant, a team from the mid-major Northeast Conference. Big Ten play resumes after that, and the Terps (10-1) will need to have established a reliable inside game, particularly if their accuracy from three-point range doesn’t improve. Maryland has shot 30.8 percent from deep on 24.8 attempts per game.
Makhi Mitchell, a forward from the District, has started five games alongside Smith, but he has averaged only 9.7 minutes per game. Lindo earned a starting role twice, and Scott has once. For three straight games, beginning with Maryland’s rout of Marquette, Turgeon started a four-guard lineup. That group features Turgeon’s five best players — Smith, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala and Anthony Cowan Jr. — but it’s not always the ideal package to match up with opponents that employ larger lineups.
So Turgeon has had to turn to his inexperienced forwards to take on starting roles, as Makhi Mitchell did against Penn State, a team that played two senior forwards, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins. Mitchell committed a turnover on Maryland’s first possession and missed a layup soon after.
As Smith dealt with foul trouble, eventually leaving the game with his fifth in the final seconds, Mitchell played 16 minutes. But he didn’t score — missing all four of his field goal attempts, including three layups. Mitchell finished with six rebounds, three of which came during a four-second stretch when he grabbed Wiggins’s miss and picked up his next two rebounds as a product of his own misses. Twin brother Makhel didn’t play against the Nittany Lions. Scott scored three points with two rebounds in 17 minutes.
“Our young guys looked young tonight, plain and simple,” Turgeon said after the game.
Turgeon commended the performance of Lindo, who played alongside Smith, Morsell, Wiggins and Cowan when Maryland wanted its five best defenders on the court. Lindo only scored on a pair of free throws and had one rebound, but Turgeon said he played like a veteran. Lindo was the only Maryland player who didn’t have a turnover.
“He hasn’t played in a while,” Cowan said of Lindo. “He came in with a great attitude, gave us some great minutes on the defensive end. Something that we need from him.”
Lindo, who seemed poised to earn a significant role this season, has played sparingly at times. During a five-game stretch — the three Orlando Invitational matchups, then games against Notre Dame and Illinois — Lindo played a total of 13 minutes. Turgeon said this month that he wants Lindo to play smarter and without fouling, but he also has praised Lindo for some of his work during those brief appearances.
Perhaps Lindo’s year of experience and useful length will make him a more trusted option and pay off in conference games. Scott should continue to develop and lean on his physicality against Big Ten foes. The Mitchells will keep learning, and Marial could emerge as a difference-maker in short bursts. Any combination would be a welcome improvement for the Terps, and they now have a long layoff to make strides in that direction.