The Maryland hoops team has had one noon start this year, when it took on Bowie back on Nov. 8 during the exhibition season. But Dec. 13, the Terps host USC Upstate before the clock even flips to the “p.m.” side, as UMD kicks off a run of morning-till-dusk Big Ten Network matchups with an 11 a.m. bout.
It hasn’t been often, but head coach Mark Turgeon has been in a few pre-p.m. games before, most recently when he was with Texas A&M a few years ago during a tournament in Orlando, Fla.
“I believe I’ve played a couple,” the headman said, “but not many. Not many.”
Turgeon said preparing for a morning match is much different than, say, readying for a late-night game. Last year, for instance, the Terps had an 11 p.m. bout in the Virgin Islands.
“It’s a lot different,” Turgeon explained, comparing the difference between morning and late-night affairs. “I think both teams have a routine where you practice the night before, you go through all their stuff, and you come the next day, you watch film, you go through a shoot-around, and you go through all your stuff. Neither team is going to have an opportunity to do that.
“Now, at [USC Upstate’s] hotel room they’re going to watch film, and in our hotel room we’ll watch film, but we probably won’t have a walkthrough and go through things [Dec. 13]. There’s just not time to do that. And so we get extra-prepared [Dec. 12]. We went through things a few times just to make sure we knew what was going on.”
One other change Turgeon imposed was a team curfew. True, college students don’t typically hit the sack before midnight on weekends, but the Terps’ head coach laid down the law by implementing an 11 p.m. bedtime. In fact, he’s had that early-lights-out rule in place for the last two days -- just to be on the safe side.
“We had a curfew [Dec. 11], because two nights before a game to me is the most important night of sleep,” Turgeon said. “So we had an 11 o’clock curfew, which for you [reporters] and me, we’ve been asleep for an hour already… maybe two (laughs).”
When the Terps do rise and shine, they’ll have to wipe the sleep out of their eyes quickly, because they can’t afford to simply go through the motions against this foe. After outlasting a game N.C. Central team Dec. 10, UMD will take on another upset-capable squad in USC Upstate of the Atlantic Ten conference. The Spartans just knocked off Georgia Tech, 59-54, and is currently ranked 21st in the Mid-Major Top 25, the first time they’ve entered the poll in the program’s nine-year history.
Don’t think for a second Maryland will be looking past them in anticipation of holiday break. Not with a guy like senior Richaud Pack on the squad, who knows all about the mid-major “upset mentality.”
“I kept telling the guys,” Pack said after the Terps defeated North Carolina Central, “this wasn’t going to be any cakewalk. I made sure they understood how much this game meant to me.”
Upstate may pose even more of a problem than NCC, however. The Spartans are seventh in the nation in steals (10.8 per game) and 14th in assists (17.4 per game), and it leads the conference in scoring defense (55.2 points per game). Moreover, behind senior guards Ty Greene’s A-10 best 16.4 points per game and Fred Miller’s 13.3, the Spartans are putting up 74.4 points a night.
Although they don’t have one starter over 6-7, Upstate features a pesky, sticky-fingered, senior-laded backcourt with Greene (2.2 steals per game; best in the A-10), Miller (1.9 steals per game) and savvy point guard Mario Blessing, who drops 3.8 dimes a night and averages just over one steal per outing.
“They’re veteran,” Turgeon said. “They have senior starters at the one, two and three, and they’ve been together four years. Ty Greene is a special player, does a lot and can put a team on his back. Moreso than anything, they’re very confident. They’re 8-2, they’re coming off an ACC win … they’re very confident.
“And they play zone. And if the zone works, it can take away a lot of things from your team. So obviously this week we’ve been able to work on zone a lot, because we thought we were going to get zoned a lot [Dec. 10]. And so we’ve had a lot of preparation. Now we haven’t seen a zone this good; [the Spartans are] very active. They average almost 11 steals a gone, so they’re very impressive.”
Once again, the Terps will rely on freshman point guard Melo Trimble to facilitate, anchor the attack and break down the USC zone. Aside from one or two instances, the first-year has been rock-steady thus far, demonstrating a mettle more often seen in upperclassmen.
“My confidence grows every time we come off a good practice. Our practice … was really good,” said Trimble, who put in a yeomen’s effort last game with 12 points, four assists and just one turnover. “We came out with a lot of energy [against NCC], so my confidence has been really good.”
Trimble has continued to grow, but one of his fellow freshman has gone through his share of fits and starts. And given the nature of the opponent, Dion Wiley could conceivably have trouble against USC Upstate. The shooting guard earned a start Dec. 10 against N.C. Central, and responded by turning the ball over five teams and scoring just three points in 16 minutes.
“I think a lot of us talked to him, and he’s responded the right way,” Turgeon said. “He knows he didn’t play well. He’s a competitor... and in practice I thought he competed and tried to do the right thing. Did he lose some confidence? I’m sure he did. But I’m sure he’ll gain it back right when he gets on the floor [Dec. 13] and positive things happen for him early.”
Turgeon may try to get Wiley into the flow early, but don’t expect him to start very much heading forward. The headman acknowledged the first-year guard just “isn’t ready” to take the floor from the game’s outset yet.
“He’s not comfortable with it, he’s told us that,” Turgeon said. “I said, ‘Hey, Dion, with the lineups right now, and who we’re playing, you might have to be a starter, you might not. We’ll see,’” Turgeon said. “But he’s definitely not comfortable being a starter right now this early in his career.”
Wiley, of course, has been asked to step up with wing Dez Wells sidelined with a broken wrist. The former, along with Pack and freshman Jared Nickens, have rotated through, combining to replace the senior leader. The NCC game notwithstanding, Wiley and Nickens have both dialed from deep, while Pack has provided scoring, defense and veteran leadership.
On Dec. 10, Pack dropped in 17 points, secured five rebounds, recorded a steal and tallied an assist -- a microcosm of his 2014-15 campaign.
“Even when Dez was playing, we kind of … figured out who was playing better and played them more. The Arizona State game with Dion, the Iowa State game with Jared. The other night we had to ride Jared and Pack quite a bit,” Turgeon said. “We’ll see who’s playing well [Dec. 13], who is doing well against the zone, who’s defending, and those guys will play more minutes. There’s no doubt about that.”
Said junior Jake Layman of the freshmen:
“I think they’re all very confident guys to start with, once they kind of figure it all out on the defensive end and how to play on the offensive end, they’re all going to be really, really great players.”
Speaking of Layman, he also has stepped up as a leader in Wells’ absence, ably assuming the role once occupied by injured “stretch-4” Evan Smotrycz, who remains day-to-day with a foot injury. Against Central, Layman dropped in 15 with four dimes and three rebounds, while turning the ball over just once.
After the game, the junior said he’s doing a good job of “letting the game come to him.”
“For me, that's how it's been all year because I know how good we are offensively,” Layman said. “I think letting it come to me is very easy knowing how many weapons we have on our team. When [Turgeon] says let the game come to me, I think that just means our offense [is] just trusting everybody out there.”
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