COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- Maryland may have only lost by one point in Brooklyn last Friday night against nationally-ranked Connecticut, but don't let the 78-77 final fool you, warned head coach Mark Turgeon. Yes, his Terps (0-1) made a spirited comeback after being down 17 points in the first half, but there's plenty for the team to work on.
In fact, there was little Turgeon wasn't concerned about following the team's first game, as he harped on spates of poor defense, shoddy rebounding, questionable shot selection and shaky ball-handling, to name a few topics.
Not that the team's performance was devoid of positives. The team showed resiliency in the second half, freshman point guard Roddy Peters delivered a spark, Charles Mitchell energized the team off the bench and Evan Smotrycz showed why the Terps brought him in from Michigan in the first place.
"I think you take both [halves] – the first 20 [minutes] and the last 20," Turgeon said during his Tuesday press conference. "There's a reason we were down 17 and a reason we came back. To be honest with you, at the start of the second half I thought we played better, but UConn was just at a really high level. We missed some shots, then they got hot and then we started to play really well down the stretch.
"So we learned a lot … about ourselves and how to coach this team."
Here's what the team needs to learn heading into tomorrow night's home opener against Abilene Christian:
Maryland did shoot a respectable 42.1 percent from the floor against UConn, but that number jolted up thanks to a furious comeback late during the game. The Terps shot less than 40 percent during the first half and never looked totally in synch with the basketball. They jacked up 3s instead of rotating the ball, used less than half the shot clock at times and succumbed to Connecticut's pressure defense.
"We talked to the whole team [after the game] -- a lot of bad shots, quick shots, especially in the first half," Turgeon said. "We graded every possession as a group -- as a coaching staff and players together.
"We all have to be collectively better. We couldn't even get into our secondary break, and that's all I wanted them to do. So there were a lot of [reasons] why we were down by 17."
Smotrycz was one of the brighter spots in terms of shooting, hitting 5 of 10 from the field and 3 of 5 from 3-point land. The stretch 4 probably needed to establish more of an inside presence instead of settling for jumpers, but at least he didn't take bad shots and connected when he had to. Not that he was tooting his own horn following the loss.
"Almost every guy shot really quick, we didn't get into our offense and we gave them a lot of easy run-outs," Smotrycz said. "We won't win many games if we don't run our offense… If we run our offense, get the right guys to the glass, the right guys running back, it should help in a lot of different aspects. Coach just wants us to calm down and plan.
"Obviously if we have a good early shot, Coach encourages us to take it, but against good teams that probably won't be there often. But we watched film, saw how bad we were and we had a good practice [Monday] and executed."
While there was plenty of blame to go around, one of the more obvious shot-selection perpetrators was junior wing Nick Faust. Though he led the team with 17 points, Faust was just 5 of 18 from the floor and 3 of 10 from beyond the arc. It continues a troubling theme that plagued Faust last season, though Turgeon believes he's a "much better player" despite last Friday's showing.
"Nick made one [shot] and sometimes that's good, sometimes that bad," Turgeon said. "But Nick is much better. His floor game is so much better than it's been. In practice he's making really good decisions. He's just excited. He hit a few, thought he could hit a few shots for us. I'm sure he would take a few back, but he'll learn from it."
Ball-handling; Dez Wells running the point
When sophomore Seth Allen went down with a broken foot, Turgeon thrust junior Dez Wells into the starting point guard role. A natural 2 or 3 man, Wells had his share of struggles against UConn. Though he dished out six assists and poured in 13 points, Wells also had six turnovers and struggled to run the offense. Turgeon said Wells played the game "in fifth gear" and didn't slow the pace down when the Terps needed it. Moreover, he seemed to lack confidence driving to the hole, almost as if he was doing more thinking than actually playing the way he knows.
"Dez had too many turnovers. He has to work on his decision making," said Turgeon, who critiqued his team's decision making as a whole, noting the 13 turnovers. "Maybe he was trying to do too much. Dez gets going downhill pretty fast. It took him a long time to settle down in the game… I'm going to try to ease it up going forward. They'll be different things we'll do that you [reporters] might not even notice to hopefully help Dez. They'll be some small, subtle things we'll do to take the pressure off of him."
Turgeon tried some of those things during the Connecticut game, including allowing Faust and several other players to bring the ball up. Roddy Peters played 18 minutes at point as well, allowing Wells to play his more natural position.
"Dez, he's becoming more of a distributor, a floor general, focused on making our team better and just being a vocal leader on the court," sophomore big man Charles Mitchell said. "But he's still scoring in the slot, attacking the basket, giving us extra rebounding. He's going to give us something from a leadership standpoint to help this team. He's a big help out there."
Even so, Turgeon admitted Wells' best position is not the 1, and he gives the team the best chance to win as a wing. His ability to drive, break down the defense and move without the basketball is limited when he has to worry about handling the basketball.
"It's a lot on his plate right now. Coach [Dustin] Clark made a good point. Not only did we lose Seth, we lost about half of Dez moving him to point," Turgeon said. "Dez was playing at a really high level at the 2 and the 3. So I've got to figure out a way to get guys in their natural position. Dez is going to play point, but I've also got to find a way to get him off the ball where he can really help us.
"But Dez has had to adjust to everybody and now people have to adjust to him."
Smotrycz agreed with his coach, saying that Maryland has enough weapons to allow Wells to concentrate on playing the point.
"We have plenty of guys that can score," he said. "We just have to score within the offense and can't force it if Dez is moving towards more of a point guard role."
Peters showed signs
The freshman from District Heights, Md., didn't play especially well during his first game, especially on the defensive end, but he flashed the potential that made him a four-star recruit coming out of Suitland High. In 18 minutes, he totaled five points and a pair of assists while showing solid ball-handling skills. But he also committed three turnovers and foundered a bit defensively.
"With the high-ball screen action, [Peters was] the only one that ran it right all night," Turgeon said. "He did a lot of good things, and I was really proud of Roddy and the things he did. He had a really good pace to him. I thought Dez played in fifth gear too much, and I think Roddy changed up his pace.
"Defensively is where he hurt us the most. But he knows that. Four possessions in the second half he could have done better. He's getting better in practice and we'll work with him."
Ram is an unheralded weapon
Walk-on point guard Varun Ram is a fireplug who plays with an unbridled intensity. During the press conference Turgeon praised the diminutive Varun and said at this rate he'll earn playing time heading forward.
"He can guard, run the team, he communicates. He does a lot of good things. I just have to have the guts to play him," the coach said. "He'll help us going forward."
Ram played a key role in preparing Wells for the UConn game. Connecticut had an active, aggressive and experienced backcourt, so Ram's play was needed and appreciated during last week's practices.
"Dez is new to the point guard spot, so I try to be the best defender he'll see in a game," Ram said. "I really try to get under his skin and really pressure the ball, and get on him more than what he'd see in a game. I figure if I get on him hard, it will be easier for him in the game, and I feel like he can use that and get better from that."
Last season, Maryland ranked among the top teams in the country in rebounding, but Connecticut won the battle, 36-33, Friday night. The Terps were limited to one-and-dones on the offensive end and didn't get many second-chance opportunities.
Mitchell, typically one of the team's better rebounders, said there needs to be more effort on the glass.
"I was disappointed in myself with that," said Mitchell, who finished with three boards. "I pride myself on being the leading rebounder on the court. [Rebounding is] like the only thing I doubted myself on -- that and losing the game. I just want to focus on that going forward because I know getting on the glass down the stretch will help, getting on the offensive glass and defensive rebounds -- that's something you'll see out of me more."
The rebounding disparity was a bit ironic considering the comments leading up to last Friday's game. Turgeon was encouraged with his team's ability to hit the boards following the Catholic exhibition, while Connecticut expressed concern with its front court following its first preseason game.
"Obviously I was fooled," Turgeon said. "I'm getting texts from coaches around the country saying I've never seen your team rebound so poorly. So we didn't rebound, and hopefully we'll do better."
The head coach went on to say there's no excuse for not hitting the glass.
"It's just laziness," Turgeon said. "And not doing what you're supposed to. If [the team] wants to be great, they're start doing those things. If they want to be mediocre they'll play like they did Friday night."
Mitchell provides a spark
Though Mitchell chastised himself for poor rebounding, he did provide an offensive spark. Coming off the bench, the sophomore scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Like last year, he seemed to give the team energy and was one of the driving forces behind Maryland's comeback Friday night.
"I felt great. I was kind of mad at myself in the first half, two quick early fouls, but right now I feel great," Mitchell said. "Just my will, mental focus, my intensity to win, bringing my team back. I just want to get better and keep working on my game."
If Mitchell continues to shine, and starter Shaq Cleare can't find a rhythm, the Georgian could find himself inserted into the starting lineup sooner rather than later. Cleare scored just four points and had one board in 19 minutes against UConn.
On Tuesday, Turgeon said he hasn't decided who will be the starter going forward. Not that he's overly concerned with the whole ordeal.
"I think when the game ended I was going to start Charles [against Abilene Christian], but I don't think Charles cares as long as he plays," Turgeon said. "I said, ‘Charles you've got to get some work in Saturday. You didn't play very much [against UConn].' He said, ‘I didn't?' He thought he played 30 minutes when he only played 19 or 20. So he doesn't care, he just wants to play."
Mitchell concurred with Turgeon's assessment. He said he and Cleare have a rapport and both will do whatever is best for the Terps.
"Both of us are good players. We're going to get in the game and play our hardest, regardless of who's starting," Mitchell said. "We're both going to give it our all to help the team win."
Turgeon, though, said the Cleare-Mitchell battle is the least of his concerns. He'd like to get to the point where there's a fight for starting roles all over the court.
"I have to build more depth. It's really not about those two guys," Turgeon said. "I've got to build more depth at every position."
As Maryland heads into its second game Wednesday night, Turgeon said there was plenty to be encouraged about and to build off of. He said the decision-making, shaky during Game 1 what with 13 miscues, has improved during practice, and the team is making strides every day.
"I've been at this long enough to know [the decision making] is going to carry over. Our guys want to be good," Turgeon said. "They just didn't know how to Friday night. They just have so much heart; they almost pulled it off. Just one basket short.
"But we've got five months left. There's a lot of time to get better, but I expect this team to play better, especially defensively, moving forward."
Terps Still A Work In Progress
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