Terps Set For First Major Test

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland is preparing to take on Arizona State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Mo., Nov. 24 at 6 p.m.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Standing near the entrance to the Xfinity Center, Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon turned his head mid-interview in order to watch Dion Wiley and Robert Carter race each other in a series of gassers, the rest of the Terps whooping and hollering as the freshman and Georgia Tech transfer ran up and down the floor. As Wiley inched ahead, Turgeon turned back to address the media Nov. 22, a faint smile on his face.

“If guys aren’t trying hard or there’s a lack of concentration, that’s one thing,” said Turgeon, two days after his 3-0 squad’s rather uninspiring victory against Fordham. “But the guys are trying hard, they’re working hard. We did a lot of positive things [against Fordham]; we guarded for 34 minutes…

“We had a good film session. There were three or four instances we saw on film that carried over [in practice]. We did a lot of positive things, but a lot of things we need to work on … But you’re not going to win every game by 35, 40 points.”

No, you’re not, and the Terps probably aren’t going to win any games in Kansas City, Mo., next week at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic by that large of a margin either. After fending off three rather unremarkable foes to begin their campaign, Maryland will take on Arizona State Nov. 24 at 6 p.m., and either Alabama or Iowa State the next night.

“It’s a big bump up in competition. We’re excited to finally play a team from a big conference like the Pac-12 in Arizona State,” said junior forward Jake Layman, who is coming off a 12-point, four-rebound game against Fordham and is averaging 14 points per game this year. “Overall they’re a little better players [than we’ve seen] and obviously we’re going to have to pick up our defense, because they’re going to hit open shots.”

Junior wing Dez Wells remembered last year’s early-season tournament, when Maryland buckled down in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam and came away with a pair of wins. He said the Terps played together and played hard, and believes if this current crop can duplicate that effort they have a good chance at sweeping through the CBE Classic as well.

Of course, that would likely mean beating a potent Iowa State (2-0) squad, which is ranked 14th in the country.

“I feel like [Iowa State] is a great team, and we can be a great team too. I cant really put too much out there because I haven’t seen [Iowa State] play much, but I know they’re a great team and Coach [Fred] Hoiberg is a great coach and is building a great program,” said Wells, who had eight points and four turnovers against Fordham, and is averaging a team-high 17.7 points per game thus far. “And we want the same thing for Coach Turgeon.”

First, though, Maryland has to deal with Arizona State Nov. 24. The Sun Devils, like the Terps, are 3-0, are averaging 68 points per game and have held all three of their opponents to 50 points or less. Senior guard Shaquille McKissic leads Arizona State at 10.3 points per game, while senior forward Jonathan Gilling is averaging 9.7 points per and junior forward Eric Jacobsen leads the team at nine rebounds a night.

Turgeon said the Sun Devils run a spread offense and attack the rim, while they’re primarily man-to-man defensively.

“Arizona state is a bigger name, a bigger opponent, an NCAA tournament team last year,” said Turgeon, who doesn’t plan to prepare any differently for the CBE Classic than the Terps normally do. “We just have to step up and play. Nothing has really changed with us. We know who we are, we know what we’re about … This part of the year is just about us getting better. If we can do that we’ll have a successful season.”

In particular, Turgeon probably would like to see his young stars continue to progress after uneven performances against Fordham . Point guard Romelo Trimble didn’t have a great night shooting, guard Dion Wiley had just three points and Jared Nickens missed a number of open looks.

“The Fordham game, it wasn’t a pretty game, but it showed [the freshmen] every game isn’t going to be a quote-unquote pretty win,” Wells said. “As long as you grind it out and get the win that’s all that matters. I feel like if they compete and they play defense they’ll be fine.”

Trimble’s stroke has been on and off through his first three games, although he is scoring 10.3 points a night. What’s more concerning, though, is he has just six assists and eight turnovers.

Turgeon, however, isn’t sweating his freshman point guard.

“If you know anything about Melo, he just wins. High school, AAU, he’s just a winner,” Turgeon said. “He realizes he doesn’t have to score 20 a game for us to be successful. He’s just trying to figure out how to help us, getting rebounds, assists, defending. He’s a winner, and that’s really what it’s about when it comes to Melo.”

There was one new face who emerged a bit against Fordham. In 15 minutes of play, center Michal Cekovsky scored six points on 3-of-4 shooting and grabbed five rebounds.

“You see flashes every now and then. He’s starting to come out of his shell,” Wells said. “He has to get comfortable and trust himself in the system as far as giving help side [defense], showing on ball screens, things like that. But those are things every freshman goes through. I went through them myself. It’s a leaning experience, and as long as he trusts the coaches and allows himself to be coached he’ll be fine.”

Wells put himself through a personal learning experience following the Fordham bout. The senior looked like he had reverted to 2013 form against the Rams’ zone, recklessly slashing to the hoop and turning the ball over too much. Wells handed out three assists, but he was just 3-of-6 from the floor and coughed the ball up four times.

“[Wells] came in and watched film with Coach [Cliff] Warren, and I talked to him,” Turgeon said. “It’s just a process. He wants to be perfect, and he’s not going to be perfect. He just has to keep working, because when he’s at a good pace we’re a much better team.”

“Yeah I want to be perfect every time out,” Wells said. “I feel like my play wasn’t to the level I know I can be at. Just a lot of mistakes, and I don’t think I played great at all. That being said, I’ll be fine and I just have to keep pushing forward. [Turgeon] was just telling me it’s one game of many, that game really doesn’t define our season, and to just keep moving forward, keep pushing.”

When Wells is executing, he’s clearly Maryland’s best player and floor general. But through the first three games, that honor actually goes to transfer Richaud Pack, who has produced strong efforts each outing. Pack scored nine points, dished out four assists and pulled down eight rebounds against Fordham. Overall he’s averaging 8.3 points per game, three assists per and six boards per.

“[Pack’s] been our best player. He’s doing all the little things, doing almost everything right,” Turgeon said. “He’s played point guard, shooting the best percentage, guarding the best player. He’s consistently been our best player.”

In general, Turgeon is trying to develop six or seven more Pack-like players, guys who lock down defensively and produce each night -- even when they’re not filling up the bucket.

Turgeon said there are plenty of areas his team has to improve on moving forward. He’s addressed the rebounding situation and offensive execution ad nauseam, but Nov. 22 he specifically mentioned transition defense as something UMD has to shore up. He said several players were late getting back on ‘D,’ while the communication hasn’t been up-to-snuff.

Layman chimed in and said the Terps need to do better protecting the rim. And, naturally…

“Just rebounding overall,” Layman said. “That’s huge for us; that’s been our No. 1 focus. I think if we can improve on [rebounding], on offense and defense we’ll take care of business.”

Wells, meanwhile, mentioned that Maryland’s shooting and offensive sets need refining. He said Maryland must be able to break down a zone defense, and continue progressing with its motion offense. He also agreed with Turgeon in that communication has to pick up across the board.

“But this time of year you hear that from almost every team, so we just have to continue to get better each and every day,” Wells said. “As long as we stay humble and stay hungry, we’ll be great.”

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