Terps Need to Take the Fight to the Irish

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland takes on Notre Dame Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Comcast Center.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Jake Layman said the Terrapins know what the problems are; now they just have to fix them. Evan Smotrycz said the key is just playing hard.

Mark Turgeon wasn't making any promises but he liked what he saw in an extended Maryland practice Tuesday afternoon at Comcast Center.

Nick Faust was more to the point: "We got to get this win tomorrow night."

That "win" would be against visiting Notre Dame in the first and last ACC regular season meeting of the two teams, Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Terrapins (10-7, 2-2) are in desperate need of a return to their home court and their winning ways following a disastrous two-game road swing that saw them crushed by a combined 44 points at Pittsburgh and Florida State.

There aren't easy answers and even Faust, a veteran on this team as a junior, said the young team has to "stay the course."

"This early in the year, I'm disappointed because we want to win all our games but I'm not sure any team in the country could have beat Florida State that night," said Turgeon. "Could have played them tougher. We have to get better and play better (Wednesday) night."

The Seminoles conducted an offensive barrage, hitting 67 percent from 3-point range and burying Maryland 85-61. Turgeon said of the season high 16 three-pointers for the ‘Noles, that (Terp defenders) were shaking hands with them on 12" of them, right in the shooter's face.

Turgeon said the team couldn't leave that loss, the worst of his tenure at Maryland, in the locker room either. "That's got to hurt, it's got to hurt overnight and it's got to hurt for awhile," he said.

The team was still feeling it Monday when they met, and talked it out. Then Tuesday, Turgeon liked what he saw in practice, saying he saw "a mature team."

Seth Allen practiced for ¾ of the workout Tuesday, and the coach said it was his best practice since returning two weeks ago from the broken foot that kept him out of the first 12 games.

Allen's progression is vital because of a sudden regression by freshman point guard Roddy Peters. Peters was 2-of-6 from the field and had three turnovers in 19 minutes at Tallahassee. Dez Wells started the second half at point as Maryland struggled.

"We have to run our system better and our point guard play has to be better," said Turgeon. "If we run our system better and we screen better and we execute better that's going to help everybody. But we can't have Roddy have six shots and Dez, five, and Jake (Layman) have six and Nick have five. It can't be that way. We have to run our system better."

Overall, the Terrapins boast five scorers in double figures – Wells (14.4 ppg), Layman (12.9), Smotrcyz (12.2), Faust (10.4) and Allen (10.0) – but the last two games Maryland has hit just 34 percent from the field while Pitt and FSU were both at 50 percent or better and simply running wild of Maryland misses and miscues.

"We're definitely frustrated but those two games are in the past now, we can't look back at them," said Layman, who has averaged just 7.0 point the last four games. "We have to look forward now."

"We have to bounce back and stay the course," said Faust, who has been in double-figure scoring in five of the last six games off the bench. "There's definitely a sense of urgency around the team. Everyone is like we have to turn it on now. It's just believing and getting in work, trying to get better every day, staying in the gym as a team and individually."

Turgeon thought his team "panicked" when they fell behind the last two games, a byproduct of playing in tough places against tough teams. They hope to impart that feeling on the Fighting Irish (10-6, 1-2) Wednesday night.

"You talk about it, you learn from it, and the great thing for us is we've got Notre Dame," said Turgeon of the turnaround to another game. "We don't have to sit on (the Florida State loss) for too long. Sometimes it just takes a home game. It takes Notre Dame and hopefully guys play well and play with confidence."

"We just have to play hard," said Smotrycz, who has scored 13-or-more points in four of the last six games. "We can't let teams get hot. We have to start out better. No one likes to lose, especially the way we lost these last two games. But guys seem locked in in practice, really getting after it today, and hopefully we can translate that (Wednesday)."

Smotrcyz said the ball needed to move more offensively, the Terps "making the extra pass. I know personally I have to start making guys better. My assist numbers (1.9 per game) have been real low and I have to do better."

He also said that the shot selection at FSU left something to be desired, a point Layman made, too. Ill-advised, quick Terrapin shots turned into Seminole run-outs and ultimately a Seminole runaway. Turgeon also thought adapting to Florida State's length all over the floor was something Maryland had to adjust to, and didn't handle well early.

"When things go bad, sometimes we lose focus and start shooting crazy shots," said Layman. "And turnovers are a big thing for us. We know what we need to work on, we just have to start doing it."

And the sooner the better. The Notre Dame game signals a stretch of three home games in the next four contests for the Terrapins, who are 6-2 in College Park. After traveling to NC State Monday, Maryland gets Pittsburgh in the Comcast Center, Saturday, Jan. 25, and then has Miami here, Wednesday, Jan. 29.

The Terrapins need to make some hey during this stretch, too, because then four of the next five games are on the road, including trips to North Carolina, Virginia and Duke.

"The big picture is we're 2-2 in the league, got a chance to get to 3-2," said Turgeon, staying upbeat to keep his Terps that way, too. "We had three of our first four on the road, played two really good teams on the road in Pittsburgh and Florida State, that I think will be at the top of our league. We'll move forward and try to get better."

Notre Dame also hopes to snap a two-game conference losing streak. The Fighting Irish knocked off Duke in its first ACC game but has since lost to NC State and Georgia Tech in consecutive games. The Irish have a strong inside game powered by 6-11 senior Garrick Sherman, who leads the team in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 ppg), and paces the ACC with five double-doubles so far this season. Shaquille Cleare, Charles Mitchell and freshman Damonte Dodd, who consistently puts in extra time after practice, will have to be on their game.

The real catalyst for Notre Dame, though, is 6-2 senior point guard Eric Atkins, a "one-man fastbreak," according to Turgeon. Atkins averages 14.0 points and 4.9 assists, and Allen and Peters will have to provide quality minutes to offset his contributions.

Notre Dame, coached by Rockville native Mike Brey, likes to spread the floor and let Atkins make things happen, also giving Sherman room to operate inside. Junior swingman Pat Connaughton (13.3 ppg) takes advantage, ranking third in the ACC in 3-point field goal percentage (.421) and 3-point field goals per game (2.5).

"We know they have a lot of shooters and Atkins is their best player," said Layman. "We'll focus on containing him."

"We practiced well today," added Turgeon. "I like our mindset. I like being in this building. Hopefully we'll have a great crowd. You don't want to go below .500 (in ACC play), I will say that. I don't ever say anything is a must-win."

What he did say, simply, was that the Terrapins need to run their offensive system better, defend with more vigor and break out of the recent malaise, partly attributable to still trying to work Allen effectively into the mix and mostly by playing two quality teams on the road.

"We played two really good defensive teams on the road," he said. "We missed some open shots (and) we don't get a lot of them. When we get them, we don't make them. Then our execution hasn't been good enough."

Turgeon was obviously maintaining an even keel in the face of a huge media turnout Tuesday after practice. He was encouraged by the 34 free throws Maryland shot at FSU, an indication they were going to the basket when shots weren't falling. And the defense wasn't as bad as it looked for most fans on TV. Florida State was simply that hot.

"We're all frustrated with the way we played there offensively, the way we shot it and the way we executed," said Turgeon. "It's a couple of games. We'll move forward. We're still getting there, slowly but surely."

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