ATLANTA — Ever since he was a child, Mark Turgeon has loved this time of year, when college basketball dynasties vie for top seeds in the NCAA tournament and mid-major squads scratch and claw for any spot in the field.
When Maryland opens play in the ACC tournament on Thursday against Wake Forest, Turgeon’s fate, and that of the Terrapins, will rest largely in the hands of a player not far removed from childhood himself, 20-year-old sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin.
Maryland (16-14), the tournament’s eighth seed, has lived and died all season on the shooting touch of the smallest player in its starting rotation.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Stoglin has had brilliant stretches, knocking down 12 of his 21 shots in an early-season victory over Colorado, and rocky ones, such as his 0-of-9 effort in a loss to Alabama the night before.
But Stoglin’s confidence is unshakable, and that alone has proved an incalculable asset in Maryland’s season of rebuilding.
“You want your guards to be confident, and Terrell is a confident kid,” said assistant coach Bino Ranson, the only member of Turgeon’s staff who has worked with Stoglin for two seasons. “He believes in his ability. He believes he’s the best. You like that competitive spirit in a player. Before you believe in anything else, you have to believe in yourself.”
It’s frightening to think how Maryland would have fared this season without Stoglin, the ACC’s leading scorer (21.2 points per game) who on Sunday became just the third Terrapins player to top 1,000 points in his second season.
He’s averaging more than twice as many points per game as senior guard Sean Mosley, the team’s second-leading scorer at 10.4 points per game. No other Maryland player is averaging double digits in points.
But it’s also worth wondering how Maryland might have fared had Stoglin been more of a selfless player.
Ranson praised the strides Stoglin has made in learning Turgeon’s defensive system. But few would argue that Stoglin has involved his teammates on offense as much as he should, passing up chances to feed the ball to post players for high-percentage shots time and again in order to take a jump shot himself.
Ball distribution has been Maryland’s weak point all season, with starting point guard Pe’Shon Howard missing 16 of 30 games because of two separate injuries.
Maryland averages only 10.4 assists per game, which ranks last in the ACC and 321st out of 343 Division I teams, and the Terrapins’ 0.8 assist-to-turnover ratio is also near the ACC’s bottom.
According to Turgeon, Stoglin is often a smart and generous passer in practice. In games, he often starts out as such. But when Maryland falls behind late, or when a teammate flubs one too many open shots, Stoglin tends to revert to form and play one-on-five basketball.
“All the trust goes out the door when you’re not scoring,” Turgeon said. “But it’s the same for Sean [Mosley], Nick [Faust], Ashton [Pankey] — all of them. We’re not tough enough or mature enough to keep doing what we’re supposed to be doing. If you’re taking good shots, eventually you’re going to get to the foul line. We panic a little too quickly instead of just sticking with it.”
Given that, it’s somewhat remarkable that Stoglin’s shoot-first mentality hasn’t soured the Terrapins’ locker-room spirit.
According to Ranson, that’s because Stoglin’s teammates recognize his rare ability.
“I think our players understand Terrell’s talent,” Ranson said. “They know he’s capable of making some of the tough shots that he takes. They just kind of live with it. When [his shot] is going, they rally around him. When it’s not, they understand it wasn’t Terrell’s night.”
Named to the ACC’s all-freshman team last season, Stoglin was passed over for ACC first-team all-conference honors earlier this week, relegated to the second team instead.
The snub could be interpreted as a swipe at Maryland. It could also be interpreted as a reaction to the Terrapins’ 6-10 ACC record.
Or it could be interpreted as a comment on Stoglin’s approach to the game.
Heading into the ACC tournament, Stoglin says he wants to prove the doubters wrong.
“I just want to be a better student of the game,” Stoglin said this week. “I want to understand the game better, become a better basketball player and use the ACC [second-team] selection as motivation to continue.”