Mark Turgeon recognizes the Maryland basketball team’s talent, and constantly praises its potential. And yet the second-year coach remains frustrated and disappointed when he perceives underperformance in a bunch he knows can muster much more.
The Terrapins blew out Monmouth, 71-38, on Wednesday night at Comcast Center, their ninth consecutive win and the fewest points the team has allowed since 2004. But they had to overcome a season-high 23 turnovers and, in Turgeon’s words, “probably one of the worst halves of basketball” a team of his has ever endured. Maryland trudged through another valley of mental errors and still emerged with its longest winning streak since 2002. But Turgeon is hunting for bigger game, and his players know it.
“We’re playing Monmouth. Nothing against Monmouth, but our guys should play better against Monmouth than they’re playing,” Turgeon said. “You guys want me to be honest? I’m honest. I’m disappointed. They have to give me more. Problem is everyone’s telling them how good they are because of their record. And they’re listening, instead of listening to me. I have a lot of time with them. They’ll all be fine.”
And so the Terps will enter a nine-day break between games, with exams and practices on the horizon, motivated by arguably their biggest learning experience since the season-opening loss to Kentucky. Against Monmouth’s pressure half-court defense, Maryland tossed errant passes in traffic and fumbled those it did catch, leading to plenty of sighing and exasperated gestures from coaches and players on the sideline.
“We didn’t come out like our usual selves,” sophomore guard Dez Wells said. “This was a learning experience for us. We’re a young team. It can’t happen again.”
The Terps (9-1) struggled to execute offensively in their half-court offense, relying mainly on transition layups to outscore the Hawks 40-17 in the second half. Nick Faust finished with a season-high 16 points and tied a career high with three three-pointers, while Alex Len turned in a monster line of 14 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high five blocks.
Wells also strung together an efficient 25 minutes with 10 points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal, and James Padgett went 3 for 3 from both the field and the free throw line for nine points.
The Terps opened the game on an 11-2 run with two close hook shots, two layups and an alley-oop to Len, but the Hawks (5-6) pulled within three points at 17-14. The Terps then went on an 8-0 run that pushed the lead to 14 and never looked back.
But Maryland will need more with ACC play around the corner, especially from its four freshmen. Seth Allen followed two of his best practices with seven turnovers. Jake Layman sat out the first half, punishment for not taking care of his academics. Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare were “lost, spinning in circles,” according to Turgeon.
“Coach knows that we can play a lot better and that he can get more out of us,” Faust said. “He really was upset with us tonight. We all took it and tried to come out in the second half and improve our play. It was a lot of lack of concentration.”
Maryland slogged through the first half, yet still emerged with a 10-point lead, buoyed by 22 points in the paint against an undersize Monmouth lineup that started no player taller than 6 feet 6. Turnovers — Maryland had 14 in the first half — may wind up becoming an Achilles’ heel against more dangerous conference opponents, but sheer talent and hard defensive work can propel them to such lopsided wins.
But emerging from halftime, Turgeon’s players asked him who was starting. Wells was the only viable answer. “After that,” Turgeon said, “I had no idea.” So he trotted out Faust, Len, Wells, Pe’Shon Howard and John Auslander, generally the 11th player off the bench.
“We have to make better decisions, we have to play smarter and be strong with the ball,” Len said. “Get rid of the stupid turnovers. . . . We just had the worst first half this year. Second half was much better. We just have to move on.”