Terps Not Counting On Stocking Stuffer
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Let's not call it a "war on Christmas," maybe just a war on bad basketball.
Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon isn't letting his Terrapins talk about the holiday break until after Saturday's 1 p.m. game with Boston University in the Comcast Center.
"I'm not allowed to say the ‘C-word' by Coach Turgeon," laughed junior Dez Wells of Christmas and the good-natured basketball bah-humbug routine. "He's being a Grinch right now. After tomorrow he'll be better."
The Terrapins (7-4) are winners of their last two games but haven't played since the Dec. 14 win over Florida Atlantic, a span of seven days by the time they hit the court Saturday. They've practiced hard the last two days after a light schedule through exam week, and it's always a time of a year when a coach doesn't know what he's going to find under the game-day tree in focus and effort from his team.
"Their biggest concern is Christmas break," said Turgeon. "They're packing their bags. They haven't been home since August. They're all excited. We have a rule – today, they can talk about Christmas break, pack their bags, get their rides lined up, all that kind of stuff. Tomorrow, I cannot hear the word Christmas until the game is over, from anybody."
Turgeon wants the focus on a pretty good Boston University (6-5) team that boasts the marvelous Maurice Watson, Jr., the Patriot League leader in assists (6.5 per game), and total steals (23). His 14.6 points per game average and .575 field goal percentage leads the Terriers, who have lost their last three, including an overtime setback to Norfolk State Sunday.
Watson nearly had a triple-double in that game with 16 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. "(Watson) is no challenge that we haven't seen before as a team," said Wells, who leads a balanced Maryland attack with 15.3 ppg. "We've played against really, really good players like (UConn's) Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier. We've played against really good guards, year in and year out, so we're up for the challenge."
Perhaps the biggest challenge is regaining game-focus and hunkering down against a team that should be among the Patriot League's best and can present some problems. "Getting all of our (class) work out of the way and being able to focus on this game is a big thing," said forward Jake Layman, coming off 22 points against Florida Atlantic. "Some guys have tests today (Friday) and they're finishing up. It went well and we're all excited for (Saturday). We practiced hard the last couple of games so we're feeling good."
Turgeon said the team looked "refreshed" and they've spent a lot of time working on zone offense as they're seeing more and more zone defense from opponents. Expect that package Saturday from the Terriers, too.
"Coach's biggest thing is getting the ball inside and getting post touches in the zone offense," added Layman, who is averaging 15.0 ppg. "When we play inside-out against the zone, we get open jump-shots. It's working well."
Turgeon said he expects to see zone tomorrow from the Terriers and he scheduled them specifically because they were a good team, one capable of giving Maryland a good test to wrap up exam week.
Coming off the narrow 66-62 win over FAU, a game that saw the Owls play a lot of zone and hold Maryland to 39 percent shooting, Turgeon admitted he made a mistake in not playing freshman guard Roddy Peters more. Peters got his second straight start but finished with just 19 minutes and often sat when FAU backed into their 2-3 zone.
"In hindsight that was a mistake on my part because our zone offense was much better with Roddy in the game," said the coach. "So I told the team that. I apologized to Roddy. He should have played more minutes. Sometimes you get it in your head, we played shooters and they can't make shots and you got a non-shooter in there, and you say, ‘Well, I got to get him out.'"
Fact is, Maryland has shot below 40 percent in four of the last six games, and Peters isn't the culprit.
"Roddy's great at driving against the zone," explained Layman. "He finds gaps and gets the bigs open and gets us open for shots outside. We expect a lot out of him and he's doing really well right now. His confidence is really high. You can definitely tell in practice. He's energetic, he's talking, he's moving. We really need him right now with Seth (Allen) out."
Wells said Peters is getting better at picking his spots to attack the zone, getting a better feel for "the flow of the game." Peters has registered at least three assists in six consecutive games and leads the team with 3.5 per game, despite an overall average of just 20.2 minutes played. He helped key the 88-80 ACC-opening win at Boston College with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
Turgeon said Peters had "taken it to another level" with a great week of practice, and that his confidence is soaring. "He's playing well," said Turgeon of his ACC Rookie of the Week. "It has worked out well for him. Seth going down has given him more minutes and it's going to make our team better come January and February."
Turgeon said the break in the game schedule came at a good time, after a tough week that included the loss at the buzzer to George Washington, a tough road win at Boston College and then the scrappy FAU game. "That was a tough week so we've got good timing. We'll see how we play (Saturday).
Turgeon also lauded another guard in relation to Peters' emergence – junior Nick Faust, who is becoming a high-quality sixth man off the bench, after starting the first eight games.
"I think he bought in right away by the way he's playing," said Turgeon of Faust. "I think he's playing terrific. He's playing starter minutes. I think he played (29) and 30 in those (last) two games. He knows how important he is. He's our best defender. He has really taken on that role. The good thing is because he has been so unselfish to do that it has really helped Roddy's confidence. Roddy is playing at a higher level and that makes our team better."
Faust's sacrifice hasn't gone unnoticed on the team either. "Nick is a really, really good player and he understands it's not who starts, it's who finishes the game," said Wells. "Nick has adjusted to whatever we need him to be."
Peters will draw Watson to start the game but Faust will get him a lot, too. Turgeon has seen some improve in the defense and the extra work on zone offense could pay dividends, too. If the Terrapins can get the ball inside and Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell can wreak havoc around the basket, well, the Christmas celebration can start.
There's no guarantee how well Maryland or BU will play tomorrow, visions of Sugar Plums dancing in their heads, and the looming "chance to get home and take a break from school and basketball. It's a dangerous game for the Terrapins thus Turgeon's no "C-Word" policy.
"That's kind of how we'll approach it," he said. "It will be all about BU from the time we wake up. The good thing is the game is early so it will all happen kind of quick."
Maryland assistant Scott Spinelli is a 1989 BU graduate, and Layman (Wrentham) and Evan Smotrycz (Reading) are from the greater Boston area.
The other "distraction" heading into this game that turned Turgeon into a Grinch was mention of him being one win shy of 300 victories in his 16-year career. "My answer is it has taken way too long," said Turgeon when asked about the milestone. "I thought it would happen a lot quicker when I started coaching. We've taken over some different jobs. Hopefully we can get it and move on."
Turgeon is 299-191 at Maryland, Texas A&M, Wichita State and Jacksonville. When he gets the victory, he will become the eighth active ACC coach over that plateau.
There's another milestone looming, too, with Wells just 22 points from 1,000 in his career (312 at Xavier, and the last 666 for the Terrapins). "I'm happy I can achieve that at Maryland," he said.
The BU contest also marks the 200th men's basketball game in Comcast Center, which opened in 2002. Maryland is 162-37 in the building, a winning percentage of .814. Maryland is 3-1 at home this year, winners of two in a row in the building after the Nov. 17 loss to Oregon State.
And the Terrapins hope to get a present after the holidays at Allen is within a couple of weeks of his scheduled return, though no timetable has been revealed.
"We know how much is left in the season, the opportunities that lie ahead, all the tough games that we have to play, starting (Saturday) at 1:00," said Turgeon. "We just want to get better, and I think we're getting better. I know the score didn't show that against Florida Atlantic, but I think we're getting better, especially on the defensive end."
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