The issues arose for the Maryland men’s basketball team earlier this month, as individualistic temptations began superseding the collective good. Some players rushed shots early in possessions, trying to independently will their team back into games rather than defer to Coach Mark Turgeon’s system. Others broke off plays early, or failed to linger long enough while defending ball screens. It’s all symptomatic of the growing pains experienced by the Terrapins, who have had a bumpy ride since ACC play began.
As close as Maryland’s players appear, for all the jokes and bear hugs and cliches about chemistry, it’s still a team regularly employing four freshmen and three sophomores. Developing trust still takes some time.
“It’s easier said than done to stop it,” Turgeon said Tuesday. “We’ve been talking about it for weeks. If I had 20 timeouts, it would really help, but I don’t. They’ll have to learn to play some. When it gets tough, we don’t execute at the highest level.”
Take Maryland’s 84-64 loss at Duke on Saturday, by far its biggest margin of defeat. The Terrapins traded blows for 25 minutes, entering halftime down just eight points without freshman Seth Allen, who had been benched for disciplinary reasons. But when the possessions became more important and the Cameron Crazies got a little louder, Maryland’s upset chances dwindled, crushed beneath moments of selfishness.
Part of the solution becomes isolating the problem through increased self-awareness, a trait not often associated with teenagers. But the Terps have been forced to grow up fast, thrust into the fire already with road losses to Miami, North Carolina and Duke, three of the ACC’s top five teams.
“He’s talking about us staying together, executing and getting the best shot for the team. I try to, but even sometimes myself I get out of hand,” said Nick Faust, himself a culprit of a few hasty attempts against Duke. “We just have to all grow up and be together, stay as one when times get rough.
“We have to recognize when you’re out of place at times. That’s definitely the first step.”
With three children at home — two boys and a girl — Turgeon has learned patience. Before he and his wife had kids, he said Tuesday, he’d probably be screaming and yelling at this team. But he’s encountered this situation before, erecting a program his way, fighting through the challenges of restructuring and starting young. It happened at Wichita State, when it took the Shockers until Turgeon’s third year to get above .500, and at Jacksonville State, where an 8-18 record in his debut season turned into 17-11 in the second.
With the 11th-hour addition of swingman transfer Dez Wells this summer, expectations soared for the Terps, with an NCAA tournament appearance suddenly becoming a realistic possibility. Now that they are firmly tethered to the bubble, burdened by a weak nonconference schedule and a rough January slate, rallying around one another becomes even more imperative.
That the Terps don’t quite possess a stable veteran leader – think Duke senior forward Mason Plumlee, who scored 19 points against Maryland on Saturday – only amplifies the issue. Seven Terrapins average at least five points, but only Alex Len (13.2 points) ranks among the ACC’s top 25 in scoring. Logan Aronhalt is the sole player shooting better than 35 percent on three-pointers, while Wells, Jake Layman and Pe’Shon Howard have each attempted more than 30 three-pointers. But none of those three have made better than 30 percent of them.
Turgeon drew more positives than negatives after the Duke loss, and did the same at his news conference heading into Wednesday’s game at Florida State. Perhaps he was protecting a young team, still trying to come together.
“There’s no panic here in me,” he said. “Would I love to be undefeated in the league? Yeah, but our schedule has been pretty tough, especially on the road. Beat a really good North Carolina State team here, playing a lot of young guns. That was a great win for us. We’re on schedule. We just got to hate losing more than anything. We just have to get rid of that. I know our coaching staff does, and I’m thinking our players really hate losing. If you hate it enough you’ll correct it and start winning, no matter if you’re playing five seniors or five freshmen, you’ll figure it out.”