Terps Improving, But Now Need 'W's'
For a proud program like Maryland there is no satisfaction in moral victories, but given the team's 14-12 record this year and recent absences from the NCAA tournament, the Terps have to take their two straight tough road losses as signs of progress. Maryland showed some intestinal fortitude in hanging right with a rugged Virginia squad, which had blown out most of its ACC foes, before falling 61-53. A couple days later, during an emotional rivalry game against No. 8 Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Terps came within a Charles Mitchell missed last-second 5-footer of escaping with a victory.
"We weren't surprised by how they played us," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said during the Feb. 17 ACC media call. "Maryland's very talented, well coached and they come at you from every position. They're good, they're showing a lot of fight, and I thought they played really well against us. It was a great game, a gutty performance by both teams."
Maryland (14-12, 6-7 ACC) head coach Mark Turgeon agreed with his Blue Devils counterpart. But while Turgeon has kept the message positive as of late, he's well aware that, ultimately, a loss is a loss.
"We're starting to play better. We had a lot of guys play well [Feb. 15], but we have to translate it into victories," said Turgeon, whose squad takes on Wake Forest (14-11, 4-8) at home Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. "But hopefully we've gained some confidence over the last week or so even though we came up short both games."
The Terps as a whole had one of their best performances all year in the 69-67 loss at Duke. Although the Blue Devils had an off shooting night, UMD still displayed grit defensively, sometimes using an active 1-3-1 zone to close out on the ACC's No. 1 3-point shooting team and holding them to 20.8 percent from beyond the arc and 33.3 percent field goals. On top of that, Maryland, which had struggled on the boards of late, ended up winning the rebounding battle, 43-36, while outscoring Duke, 38-20, in the paint.
"Defensively they get after it, and they'll change some things up like they did with that 1-3-1 half-court zone," Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "[Jake] Layman was tough there [in the zone] and long at the top of it. … I think Maryland's an outstanding team."
Turgeon said that while the defense in general played well, he was particularly proud of his two freshmen, point guard Roddy Peters and center Damonte Dodd. While neither generated much in the stat book, Peters kept his counterpart from driving the lane, while Dodd altered plenty of shots inside.
"Roddy, that's as well as he's played defensively. He gave us a great four-minute stretch there [in the second half]," Turgeon said. "And I think [Dodd] played with a lot of confidence, especially on the defensive end. He wasn't caught up in the moment at all; I don't really know if he realized what the moment was as a freshman… But he gave us something we didn't have [defensively], and hopefully he can continue to give it to us. I was surprised by Damonte, I really was. I'm proud of him."
Offensively, the Terps did the best they could against an intense Duke defense, driving the lane and shooting 41.9 percent from the field. Power forward Charles Mitchell took advantage of a mismatch inside and scored 12 points, while Layman scored a team-high 18 to go along with his defense. Junior wing Dez Wells, who had three early fouls and attempted just one first-half shot, took over during the latter 20 minutes to score all 17 of his points.
"When your point guard can score like [Seth] Allen can score, and then you have an inside presence like Mitchell, and then the intermediate guys like Layman, [Nick] Faust, Wells -- they can attack you every way," Krzyzewski said. "Wells is one of the better players in the league and will be a pro at some time. In transition he's amazing, and he can break you down.
"Mitchell has improved from last year to where he's very mobile. He has good touch, and he's really a great offensive rebounder. With the guys they have, [Mitchell] has an opportunity [to rebound and score] because the other [offensive players] they have can break down a defense. That gives [Mitchell] a little more time to operate one-on-one inside and also go to the offensive boards."
Turgeon had praise for both Mitchell and Wells as well, noting how the former has practiced better and played with great energy against Duke, taking advantage of his size advantage over Amile Jefferson ("[Jefferson] was recruited to play the "three" out high school," Turgeon said). Maryland's head man went on to mention how early foul trouble actually worked to Wells' benefit, as he was fresh in the second half.
"He started going downhill on the break, got to the rim, hit the 3 in the corner," Turgeon said. "He made some plays and really executed."
Of course, the Terps did in fact lose the game. Maryland still made too many mental mistakes, namely when passing the ball, and had 14 turnovers. In addition, UMD had an eye-popping 25 fouls, and Duke took advantage by canning 28-of-34 free throws, which was the difference in the game.
"We've fouled too much all year. We have to play great defense without fouling," Turgeon said. "Being a half-step out of place, not [being] as committed to defense, it's been a problem all year. We got outshot by 16 at the line [against Duke]. It's tough on the road, but we have to play smarter, better defense. We have gotten better, but we [can't] get in foul trouble in those games."
Perhaps Maryland can put it all together Feb. 18 against Wake Forest. After taking on back-to-back ranked squads on the road, the Terps would seem to be in for a brief reprieve before a Feb. 24 showdown against the nation's No. 1 team, Syracuse.
Wake Forest comes to Comcast Center having lost five straight and is sitting at 4-8 in the ACC. Three of their last five defeats have been by double-digits, including two 20-point losses to Syracuse and Duke. Wake has hit the 70-point plateau just once during the stretch. Moreover, the Deacons are just 1-4 on the road, with their only victory coming against Virginia Tech.
"Every team goes through it, every team is going to encounter adversity," Bzdelik said. "It's how you respond to it that ultimately determines your destiny. We need to fight our way through it. We've played some very good teams, and we've had …some moments where luck hasn't gone our way, but we have to make our own luck. There's not a pity party. We have to roll our shorts up, fight through it, stay together and I told [my players] our best moment is yet to come."
Could that moment come Feb. 18 in College Park, Md.? Maryland, after all, hasn't exactly been a model of consistency this year. The Terps have followed 20-point victories (at Virginia Tech) with 20-poiint losses (at North Carolina), and impressive, complete performances (versus Georgia Tech) with lackluster efforts (at Pittsburgh). This time around, even though UMD has lost two straight, it has to avoid a letdown against a team that has hit the skids.
"Am I concerned a little bit? Yeah," Turgeon said. "But we've also lost three of four… We have to be prepared [because Wake] has good players. They've won games, and they're capable of winning games – it just takes one night. We have to be dialed in, try to guard them and execute well on the other end.
"They've got big guys that put a lot of foul pressure on you. They really drive the ball well from the elbow and off the block. Their transition offense, they run and can finish -- that concerns you tremendously. [Their defensive], you have to be alert, because they do a lot of different things you have to prepare for in a short time."
Turgeon has to offer praise, but the fact of the matter is Wake sits in the bottom half of the ACC in most major statistical categories. The Deacons are eighth in scoring (70.4 points per game), 10th in field-goal percentage (43.9), 12th in 3-point percentage (31.8), 14th in free-throw shooting (64.2 percent), ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.11) and ninth in steals (5.52 per game). They are also giving up 72 points per night in conference play, one of the ACC's worst marks.
The Deacons' bright spot is their rebounding, where they sit fourth in the league. That mark mainly comes courtesy of sophomore forward Devin Thomas, who is fourth among ACC performers at 7.9 boards per game.
Thomas, of course, is the brother of Maryland women's hoops star Alyssa Thomas. At one time Devin wanted to be a Terp too, but was not offered a scholarship.
"I think [Devin] is more excited about seeing his sister [than playing against Maryland]," Bzdelick said. "I know the Thomas family is a great family. Bob and Tina are awesome parents -- it's a very close-knit family. I think they're always excited to be with each other in person."
While Thomas, who also ranks third in the ACC with a 53.9 percent field-goal percentage, has played well this season, he's struggled as of late. He's reached his rebounding average just once and his field-goal percentage just twice in the last five games. Thomas is coming off a two-point, three-rebound night against Florida State.
"He's been a little inconsistent, but so has our basketball team as well these last couple of weeks," Bzdelick said. "[Thomas] needs to expand his game a little bit more in terms of, when teams take away one thing, be able to counter it with another move... He needs to be an active participant in his own rescue too, and that is play with great energy; move harder; be smarter; be more active on the glass; and be more active up and down the court in transition.
"We've come to expect so much out of him that when he falls short we're like, ‘Wow.' But he'll respond. He just needs to get his confidence back a little bit."
Turgeon called Thomas a "bully" who gets to the rim, draws fouls and cleans the glass.
"He gives them a presence. You need to have a guy like him on your team," Turgeon said. "He's a tough matchup for a lot of people."
Wake has a couple other tough matchups. Sophomore guard Codi Miller-McIntyre leads Wake at 14.2 points per game and is eighth in the ACC at 3.9 assists per. Senior forward Travis McKie ranks third behind Thomas with 10.9 points a night, and senior guard Coron Williams puts up 9.1. Sophomore forward Arnaud-William Adala Moto is Wake's second-leading rebounder at 5.6 per game.
That group will be up against a Maryland team that is 4-1 at home in conference play, falling only to a ranked Pittsburgh squad, 83-79. The Terps may have lost three of four, but Bzdelik isn't fooled by that recent run and UMD's 6-7 ACC mark.
"Records can be deceiving, because teams are just a couple possessions away from having two or three more wins – it's such a fine line," Bzdelik said. "[The Terps] play with great energy, especially at home. They feed off the energy of their great crowd. They're very potent and aggressive offensively; they've got guys that can shoot the basketball, guys that can drive it hard, and they've got some bigs that are tough around the rim. So we expect a hard-driving, really good shooting team. They're outstanding."
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