Terps Heavyhearted, But Ready for Noles

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland (10-6, 2-1 ACC) takes on Florida State (10-4, 2-0) Jan. 12 in Tallahassee, but while UMD's focus is on bouncing back after a loss to Pittsburgh, the team is also thinking about student team-manager Zach Lederer, who isn't doing well in his battle with brain cancer.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Like many throughout Terps Nation, Maryland (10-6, 2-1 ACC) head coach Mark Turgeon and his players heard the news Jan. 10 that former student team-manager Zach Lederer was not doing well in his two-year battle with brain cancer. Lederer, who would have been a junior at UMD this year, had been a constant presence around the basketball team, and Turgeon often used the word "inspiration" whenever discussing the energetic, upbeat young man.

"The way he approached practice, he was so positive about it. My first year here we weren't a very good basketball team, and Zach didn't accept that," Turgeon said at the Jan. 11 media session. "And the way he handled the second surgery, ‘Zaching' (Lederer's version of ‘Tebowing'), the lives he touched, the people he touched… I got an e-mail from somebody, and it said he's touched more people at 20 than some people who live to be 80. And that just shows you how special Zach is."

Junior Dez Wells is one Terp who has been particularly close to Lederer and his family. He often exchanges texts with them just to make sure they're handling the situation well and Lederer's spirits are high.

"It's a soft spot for me because I too have lost someone close to me to cancer when my cousin passed away when she was 14," Wells said. "[Lederer] is a great inspiration for me, and seeing someone like him fight like he's been doing. … I just hope he doesn't have to suffer too much longer – him and his family."

Wells went on to say that Lederer has motivated him, and now he's even more amped to perform on the court, beginning with the Terps' game at Florida State (10-4, 2-0) Jan. 12 at 8 p.m.

"I dedicate every game for the rest of my career to him for the strength and courage he showed and what he's done for everyone around him," Wells said. "It's something to play for; it gives me a lot more motivation."

Wells and his teammates are going to need all the inspiration and motivation they can muster Jan. 11 in Tallahassee. The Seminoles are a physical, rugged defensive squad that ranks first in the ACC in blocks per game (6.6) and third in steals (7.8), while allowing squads to shoot just 36 percent from the floor. Aaron Thomas is third in the conference with 2.21 steals per game, while Boris Bonjanovsky is third in blocks (2.14 per game).

FSU just won its second ACC game Jan. 8 as it went on the road, forced 18 turnovers and held Clemson to 30 percent shooting in a 56-41 victory. Maryland, meanwhile, just played a difficult defensive-minded team in Pittsburgh, which didn't end so well for the Terrapins (a 79-59 loss).

"[FSU] is a different animal [than Pittsburgh] because of their length and they protect the rim. I don't know if they're the best team in the country around the rim, but they're the best I've seen on film this year," said Turgeon, who hinted that freshman forward Damonte Dodd may see a bit more time against FSU given his length. "They take away a lot of baskets by the rim and they get after you. They guard you differently than Pittsburgh guards you. It'll take awhile to get used to their speed and length, and hopefully we'll get adjusted quickly."

Turgeon wasn't giving up any trade secrets, but he did say the best way to go after FSU was to "take it right at them," mainly because the Noles are near impossible to go around. He mentioned drawing fouls and second-chance points as essential components in beating the Seminoles.

"It's hard to run your half-court offense against them and get baskets," Turgeon said. "So you have to figure out ways to score."

Freshman point guard Seth Allen said the key for Terps is to drive, attack the rim and then make a play when the defense collapses. Although Allen and freshman Roddy Peters had trouble splitting double teams while driving against Pittsburgh, he said it was paramount the two point guards challenge the heart of the defense.

"[FSU is] really long and they swarm the ball, so when you penetrate you have to make plays for other people," Allen said. "You have to attack."

Wells concurred with his teammate, while also saying he wasn't intimidated by Florida State's length. In fact, Wells said he's excited for the challenge the defense presents.

"We've got to get into the lane and make a scoring play. We have to go in there with the mindset that we're going to get a foul and an and-one," Wells said. "Or we're going to have to drive to make others better around us."

So, the Noles can play a little defense, but they aren't too shabby with the ball in their hands either. The Seminoles, which score 74 points per game and shoot 47 percent from the field, have thee players averaging in double-figures, led by Ian Miller (13.5 points per game), Aaron Thomas (12.4) and Okaro White (12.2). White has three double-doubles this year and also leads the squad in rebounds (6.5 per game).

"I'm not sure why expectations were low for them. Ian Miller is one of the best players in the country," Wells said. "I've been playing against him since high school, and last year he was hurt. He'll be a good leader, and with Okaro White, I have no doubt they should be an NCAA [tournament] team."

For the Terps to have even a sniff at the NCAA tournament they're going to have to steal a few road victories. Maryland failed its first test against Pittsburgh, losing by 20 and looking relatively lifeless at times during the second half.

But while the defeat was tough to take, the Terps did what any team should do following a shellacking: Learn from it, and forget it.

Even though Maryland had six days before its next game, Turgeon said by Jan. 9 the team has "totally moved forward [from Pitt]" and put in "inspired" efforts in practice.

"I don't necessarily like the long break, but it's also good because you can be like a pro team almost, just working and getting better," Turgeon said. "Everybody took the week off to get better, whether it was ball-handling, shooting, shooting free throws, defense, whatever it is on top of what we were doing in practice. The results might not happen right away, but with all this practice time I think the team is going to get better, which we have since Christmastime."

Wells (14.4 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per) said after a loss he prefers to play another game almost immediately -- just to get the taste out of his mouth. But the junior wing doesn't make the schedule, so he had to channel his energy into practice instead, making the most of the six-day layoff.

"For my body, it was good we had a little break, but mentally I want to get to the next game," said Wells, who noted the team was especially mad after Pittsburgh because it was their first ACC loss and he wants UMD to go out with a bang before moving to the Big Ten. "But mentally it's good to take a break too. I appreciate the break, and Coach been on us about the little things we didn't do in the Pittsburgh game, and hopefully we'll get those corrected at Florida State."

Allen may have benefitted most from the days off, as it afforded him more time for his foot, which he broke during the preseason, to heal. The sophomore said he's "feeling stronger each day" and hasn't had to do as much rehab work.

But although Allen has already made quite an impact during his first few games back, averaging 12.3 points per game and pouring in a season-high 18 points against Pittsburgh, Turgeon might not be ready to start him just yet. Peters will likely take the floor at the tip, with Allen rotating in and playing about 20 minutes. While Allen has done plenty on the offensive end, Turgeon said his defense still needs to ratchet up a bit.

"I could [start], but I don't really think about it. When I do get in I try to make a play for my teammates and bring energy," Allen said. "But I had to jump in the flow [of the game], and I'm getting used to it. I think it [his being on the floor] takes a lot of pressure off guys like Dez not having to handle the ball as much, it allows Jake [Layman] to stand in the corner and get open shots. It's been a good adjustment."

Now, the question is can Allen and the Terps adjust quickly enough to knock off the Noles in Tallahasee? Maryland is 0-3 against FSU during Turgeon's tenure in College Park, but the head coach said his squad is ready and playing better, despite its most recent loss.

"I believe in my guys," Turgeon said. "I feel better [Jan. 10] than I did after the [Pittsburgh] game. I think we had a good week of practice, so we'll see. We've got a tough game [Jan. 12], especially on the road, but we're looking forward to it."

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