COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- There were more than a few plays that drew Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon's ire Jan. 20 in Raleigh, N.C., where the Terps fell to a struggling N.C. State squad, 65-56. But two in particular undoubtedly stuck in his craw.
At the 9:18 mark of the second half, with UMD (11-8, 3-3 ACC) clinging to a 46-45 lead, freshman point guard Roddy Peters hoisted up a wayward jump shot just a few ticks into the shot clock. Seconds later, State's Raiston Turner drilled a 3-pointer to give his squad a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Then, less than two minutes after the Turner dagger, Turgeon called a timeout with the Terps down by just four, 50-46. But right out of the break, instead of settling in and attempting to execute the offense, sophomore point guard Seth Allen took a quick jump shot that drew iron.
Those were just two plays, but all game it seemed the Terps were operating in a Chip Kellyesque no-huddle offense, complete with a 15-second shot clock. Which is why, for one significant second-half stretch Jan. 20, Maryland's head man yanked both Peters (zero points) and Allen (eight points) from the game, leaving junior wing Dez Wells to reassume his point guard duties.
"The last game [Peters] wasn't doing what he was asked. Is that pretty blunt? That's why him and Seth were both sitting out. I didn't have a point guard who would do what I asked," said Turgeon, whose team takes on No. 20 Pittsburgh (17-2, 5-1 ACC) Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. in the Comcast Center. "I'd rather lose than have guys [not listen]. Guys have to do what they're asked. But I have a lot of confidence in Roddy … we need him. We need him to play well.
"[And] Seth, he's taking quick shots, and the worst part is he's not guarding on the other end. He's got to guard for us, he has to run our team. The thing is Seth needs me to be on him every day, and for 10 weeks [when he was out with a broken foot] I wasn't on him. We've got some catching up to do. He's a little overweight and he's got to be strong enough to [say], ‘The last half of the year I'm going to be the best I can be.'"
There have been a number of overarching themes discussed this season, from the team's (lack of) toughness, to its basketball IQ to its mindset to its talent. During the Jan. 24 press conference, the word "maturity" kept cropping up, from both Turgeon and his players.
"We have to share the ball, be unselfish, put winning first. We're too impatient, too immature, a little too selfish," said Turgeon, who made sure to mention that he has to do a better job coaching the team. "When things go bad we try to do it on our own, and that's what young teams do. …When things go wrong you have to stick together, and we didn't do that the other night [against N.C. State]. We broke plays off, we shot really bad shots. We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds … and right now I just don't have enough timeouts in a game.
"I think my point has been well taken. But when the lights come on I can't stop [the immature plays] all the time; they have to do it the right way. We'll see how committed they are to being successful. They know they can't play that way."
As a whole, Maryland finished with 12 turnovers, had just nine assists and shot a miserable 31.4 percent from the floor against N.C. State. Besides Allen and Peters, sophomore wing Jake Layman (2-of-8) and junior guard Nick Faust (1-of-7) hoisted up some ill-advised treys, while forward Evan Smotrycz (10 points) and Wells had their share of miscues as well.
"We have to be more patient in our offense," said Wells, who still leads the team at 14.3 points per game. "It takes a lot of maturity and IQ to know this is not going to be a good shot. And it takes a lot of leadership to say, ‘Hey this is not a good shot.' …
"We have to grow up as a team. We have to have that guy to just come out, and just say, ‘Settle down, we're going to take good shots.' There's a difference between our point guards [Wells included himself] taking control of the game and taking control of the team. But those are things that can be fixed. We've talked about it, and I think if we're patient everything will be fine."
Junior big man Jonathan Graham, who had four points and four rebounds against State, said there is no secret formula or potion for Maryland's woes. He said it basically comes down to trust and deciding you want to buy into the team and each other.
Ultimately, if that happens, the shot selection will improve, the defense will lock in, and the team's overall effort will see a drastic uptick. Too many times during the second half of the N.C. State game Maryland looked lethargic and disinterested, with both their offensive sets and defensively.
"We just have to make it happen," Graham said. "This is the ultimate team sport. You have to get it done on both ends of the court. It's not like football where you play solely offense or solely defense. It's a team thing in basketball. We're the only ones that can fix our problems, and these past few practices we've done a really good job correcting some of the mistakes we made in the N.C. State game. Now we just have to translate them into [the Pittsburgh game]."
Granted, there were some positives to take away from the Jan. 20 loss. Namely both Graham and freshman big man Damonte Dodd made their presence felt. Graham always seems to bring enthusiasm and gritty play off the bench, but Dodd, in his most extensive action of the season, made his pitch for more floor time. The 6-foot-9, 240 pounder finished with six points, four rebounds and a block in just 14 minutes.
"I was encouraged with our rebounding and physicality with our big lineup," Turgeon said. "Damonte gave us big minutes; he gives us length around the rim … something we don't have. He finished around the rim when none of our other bigs could finish. He blocked a shot from behind. And he's a real good athlete. He's got a long ways to go, but he's coming. Damonte has really come a long way understanding the principles, and when he's out there being active we're much better defensively."
For long stretches against N.C. State both backup bigs were on the floor at the same time. And that's really when the Terps showed their most toughness.
"My job is to come off the bench and bring energy any way I can, and I feel Damonte is the same way," Graham said. "I thought he played excellent in the first half. He was in the right spots, rebounding, executing. He brought great energy and hopefully he can continue that."
That won't be easy against a Pittsburgh team that Turgeon said "is just killing teams" right now. The Panthers, who dealt Maryland a 79-59 loss on Jan. 6, are 3-1 since they last saw the Terps, with the only loss coming in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse.
Pitt is ranked in the top third of the ACC in almost every major category, including scoring (76 per game, third); field-goal percentage (48.7, first); 3-point percentage (35.6, sixth); assists (17.2 per game, first); rebounding (40.8 per game, sixth); steals (7.1 per game, third) and turnovers (10.1 per game, third). Most recently the Panthers throttled Clemson, 76-43, lowering their points-allowed average in conference games to 60.3, third in the ACC.
"Pitt is playing with tremendous confidence," Turgeon said. "They're strong with the ball, they strip you down low when you're driving, they're great defensively, and they execute their stuff. They're very good, and we've got to play hard for 40 minutes, because Pitt is going to play for 40 minutes…. We've got our hands full."
Indeed they do. Pitt wing Lamar Patterson, who dropped 19 on Maryland the last time these teams met, looks to be a surefire first-team all-ACC player. He's averaging 17.4 points, shooting 50.3 percent from the field, 44.3 percent from 3-point range and dishing out 4.6 assists per game, all numbers that rank among the top five ACC performers.
"Patterson is very unique. He's got great handle for his size; he's a great inside and outside guy," Graham said. "He's the guy that makes them go. He's the guy we're keying on, and it's a team effort thing. We've got to help Dez. We've got to help Nick, and whoever is guarding him. We have to bring help-side defense and make every shot he takes tough."
The other major threat is power forward Talib Zana, a 6-9, 230-pound brute who had 13 points and nine rebounds during the first UMD-Pitt bout. Right now he's averaging more than 13 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
"He's tough, he's physical. But, again, it's going to be a team thing," Graham said. "It's got to be me. It's got to be Shaq [Cleare]. It's got to be Chuck [Mitchell]. It's got to be Damonte. We all have to be locked in defensively and make every shot he takes tough."
Besides those two, the Panthers have a point guard in James Robinson, who is second in the ACC with a 5.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, and a guard in Cameron Wright who averages almost two steals per game. (Fortunately for Maryland forward Durand Johnson, who dropped 17 on the Terps, is done for the year with a knee injury).
Add it all up, and there's a reason Pitt has just two losses all season and is ranked among the top 20 teams in college basketball.
"We have to play the way we did in the first half against them," said Wells of Maryland's initial meeting against Pitt, when the Terps hung with the Panthers for 20 minutes before fizzling late. "[Pitt] came out hot [in the second half], and we couldn't stop the bleeding. But I feel like if we go out and compete as hard as we can and play as smart as we did in the first half … I feel we can win."
At this point, though, the Terps might have to settle for an increase in the aforementioned maturity category. That said, if the Terps can pull off an upset, it would give the team some much-needed confidence moving forward.
"It's a long season. We still have seven home games left in the league," Turgeon said. "There's always a few teams that get hot. Hopefully we can be one of those teams."
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