Irritated by his players’ casual approach to a 9:15 a.m. practice Friday, Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon kicked them out of the gym after less than 30 minutes. Then, after giving them the day to reflect on it, Turgeon reconvened the squad for an evening workout, scuttling any players’ plans for a night out.
Whether the lesson in tough love helped the Terrapins shoot any better or defend more vigorously is an open question. But the Maryland team that took the court at Comcast Center on Saturday posted its most decisive victory of the season, defeating Samford, 75-63, to extend its record to 9-3 with a sixth consecutive win.
Sophomore Terrell Stoglin matched his career high with six three-pointers to pace the Terps with 24 points. Freshman Nick Faust came off the bench to shake his shooting slump, adding 13 points, including three three-pointers, and dishing out four assists with just one turnover.
After barely squeaking past a series of mid-major opponents in recent weeks, Maryland built a healthy enough second-half lead (twice topping 20 points) for Turgeon to reward all six walk-ons with playing time in the waning minutes — a show of appreciation for their work in helping Howard, Len and the short-handed Terps through trying times.
“They bring it every day,” Turgeon said of Jacob Susskind, Arnold Richmond, Spencer Barks, Jon Dillard, John Auslander and Jonathan Thomas, who were cheered on by the starters. “It meant a lot to everyone in our locker room that they got in today.”
That’s not to say that Maryland cruised to victory.
After Stoglin drilled a three-pointer early in the second half to extend Maryland’s lead to 47-31, the Terps went 3 minutes 26 seconds without a field goal. And after leading by 21, Maryland eased up on defense, allowing Samford to pull within 13.
Moreover, in bruising tussles in the paint, Maryland’s big men were shoved around too easily and denied what should have been straightforward put-backs.
And the young Terps have yet to close a game authoritatively — or display anything resembling a killer instinct.
“It’s very good for us to get these types of wins,” Howard said. “With Alex and I coming back, it helped us a lot. It changed our team. The first game that I played [Dec. 23], the offense played a little bit better but [the victory was] still close. With Alex, the offense played a lot better, but still close. Every game is us growing.”
Maryland’s first two offensive plays were scripted for Len, who was fouled each time. It put the Bulldogs on notice that they’d have to guard the 7-foot-1 center closely, which helped free up Stoglin.
Maryland didn’t make things terribly difficult for Samford (3-9) on its end of the court, allowing the Bulldogs to hit 50 percent of their shots through the first 12 minutes. With improved defense, Maryland took a 44-31 lead to the break.
In a 30-second span, Faust struck twice from long range to put the Terps ahead, 58-38. Turgeon was pleased with the freshman’s shot selection on only one of those attempts, shouting “Bad shot!” as the ball left his hands.
But by game’s end, the coach said he was happy for Faust, given how hard he has worked on his shooting and the effort he pours into rebounding and defending.
Said Faust: “It was definitely a great thing — a confidence booster. I get on myself a little bit about shooting, but I just have to push through it and keep mentally tough and mentally strong.”