The Nittany Line: It's A Big Game

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon talked about the state of the Terps Feb. 2 ahead of UMD's Feb. 4 8:30 p.m. matchup against Penn State.

The Terrapins have slowed down a bit this past week, and that’s a good thing, said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon.

Coming off the most lopsided loss of the season at Ohio State, Maryland didn’t really have a choice. The Big Ten Conference schedule, with nuances with which the Terrapins are still becoming acquainted, gave Maryland a full five days before the Feb. 4 home tilt against Penn State at 8:30 p.m.

“This was great timing, we could have probably used (the break) a game or two earlier,” said Turgeon. “It has been great for us. We’ve been able to regroup and talk about a lot of things. We’ve had some great practices. I’ve given them some time off. We have been able to work on us instead of diving into another game, another scouting report. Hopefully we’ll be refreshed and energized and ready to play on [Feb. 4].”

Turgeon was just beginning his personal scouting of Penn State (14-8 overall, 2-7 Big Ten), but he sees – no surprise here – another tough, scrappy conference opponent on an endless reel of such teams in the Terrapins’ new league.

“It’s a big game because we’re coming off a loss and it’s our next game,” said Turgeon. “I really like (Penn State coach) Pat (Chambers), he does a good job. They have a toughness to them. You look at their scores, they’re in every game. They’ve lost some heartbreakers. It’s going to be a tough game.”

Chances are pretty good the two teams will shake hands in the pregame, something that came up in Monday morning’s Big Ten Conference teleconference regarding the burgeoning football rivalry between Maryland and Penn State.

“I’m not sure, I didn’t even think about that,” said Chambers, laughing at the notion of not shaking hands. “Obviously we’re close in proximity, probably recruiting the same players but I don’t think it’s as nasty as what football portrayed. Turg and I get along real well. We recruited guys that are currently on their team. We recruited Jon Graham, Jared Nickens. I know D.J. (Newbill) is close with Dez Wells. Turg and I will shake and so will our players but I can’t say it’s a rivalry game until we go out there and compete.”

Handshakes or not, Turgeon has alternated a hands-off approach with his struggling team, and then hands back on to address some issues that have cropped up in recent games.

The Terrapins (18-4, 6-3 and in a five-way second place tie in the Big Ten) haven’t been themselves lately. Outside factors like a demanding road slate at tough venues and against tough teams have been one factor but truth be told, Maryland hasn’t executed at either end of the court at the level the team was earlier this month when it rose to 13th in the Associated Press poll.

Start on the defensive end where the last four opponents have shot the ball incredibly well against a Maryland defense third in the Big Ten in field goal percentage allowed (.396). Even in a loss, Michigan State was at 44.8 percent, followed by Indiana’s scorching 60 percent, 54.2 percent by Northwestern in Xfinity Center, and then Ohio State’s 46.7 percent shooting in the 80-56 thumping. More troubling, Indiana shot 68.2 percent behind the 3-point arc, and the Buckeyes were deadeyes at 58.8 percent from deep.

Are Big Ten opponents’ exposing something or is there some fatigue involved, particularly for a Maryland team trying to become part of a new league. “It’s tough,” said Turgeon. “Just getting used to all the new players and what they do or don’t well. We actually try to study other coaches in our league and how they approach certain teams. I think that helps us a little bit. I think it’s also hard on other teams playing us, too. They don’t have a great feel for us and our system. I think as each game goes on teams are getting a better feel for us and guarding us a little bit better and doing some things against us.”

Turgeon also thought that particular challenge was “refreshing,” but it has put a burden on scouting his season. He thinks the Terrapins will be much further along in that regard in coming seasons. He joked that he may look back and not believe some of the things he has had the team do in preparation for so many new opponents. Right now, there’s a more immediate focus.

“I’m more concerned about us trying to play well and get back to what we’re capable of doing,” said Turgeon Monday. “We’ll dive into Penn State today. We’ve had a couple of days to kind of lick our wounds and try to get better.”

Turgeon said he “continually works on us,” during the season but the grind of getting ready for the next game sometimes take a toll on that process and on the players. “Since Thursday night when the game ended, I’ve thought primarily about us. It’s a nice break for the players from one scouting report to the next. Sometimes it gets old from one game to the next when you’re traveling and it’s hard and it’s a grind, and every game is tough during the league.”

Turgeon said he has never been a part of a league like the Big Ten where the conference schedules two byes for each member, each four or five days. “It’s beneficial and helpful for all the young men, and I think it’s helpful academically, too,” he said.

In regard to learning, the Terrapins have probably focused on doing a better job sliding defensively to try to take away some of those three-pointers, and there’s a crash course on rebounding. Maryland has been battered on the boards the last four games, including an embarrassing 51-32 debacle at Ohio State.

The Terrapins are also getting very little production out of the post – a concern coming into the season – that Damonte Dodd had addressed at times. The last seven games, though, the 6-11 sophomore has averaged 0.7 points and 1.8 rebounds.

Freshman Michal Cekovsky hasn’t had as many big moments lately as he had earlier, either, though he did chip in five points and six rebounds at Ohio State. That performance, though, was sort of like commending the room service on the Titanic.

Offensively, Maryland has been off its game, too. Turgeon is a firm believer that the poor offense translates to poor defense. The 56 points at Ohio State was a season-low, as was the 30.5 percent shooting.

Freshman point guard Melo Trimble was 0-for-8 at Ohio State, and scored a – stop us if you’ve heard this before – season-low three points. He had 27 in the previous game against Northwestern, so hard to say there’s a trend there.

The same, though, cannot be said about fellow frosh Dion Wiley, a terror off the Terrapin bench earlier this season. He was scoreless against the Wildcats, the second time that happened in three games, and then hit 2-of-6 shots in Columbus to notch six points.

Evan Smotrycz, battling injuries and so much missed time early, has yet to look comfortable in the motion offense, and Maryland just isn’t as good defensively when he’s on the floor with the best offensive group.

Another freshman, Jared Nickens, also had six points like Wiley at OSU, but was out of the starting lineup as senior Richaud Pack returned, coaches hoping he could shore up that perimeter defense. “We need to get Richaud back to the way he was playing,” said Turgeon. “A lot of that has been my fault, just inconsistent minutes for him. Hopefully he can get back to being one of our lockdown defenders, which he was doing such a great job with, and being a great teammate offensively, knocking down shots. We’ve lost our rhythm with that.”

Nickens will continue to have a big role, but Turgeon wouldn’t commit to a starting lineup for Feb. 4.

There’s hope the time off will help but so, too, may a schedule that now has five of the next seven games at home, where Maryland is 13-1 this season. The one Xfinity setback was to Virginia, still arguably one of the top two teams in the country, dreaded Duke doing what Duke does, aside.

“We feel comfortable at home like most teams do,” added Turgeon. “We’ve had good crowds lately. We expect a great crowd [Feb. 4]. Our students are back. Like most teams in the country, you feel better at home and the crowd helps you.”

Chambers didn’t like the way the schedule broke for the Nittany Lions in regard to Maryland. “Look, (the Terrapins) didn’t play their best game against Ohio State and they had a week off. That’s not a good recipe (for Penn State). They’re going to be fresh: fresh minds, fresh legs, they’ve been practicing, getting prepared to get better. It’s going to be a great challenge for us, no question.”

Chambers, like Turgeon was just watching film of Maryland’s last game Monday morning. “It looked like Ohio State hit a ton of shots, (Maryland) met a hot team,” he said. “That’s going to happen in this league. It happened to us against Wisconsin. They were on fire. It looked like Ohio State was on fire. This is a great league. That’s going to happen every now and then. You just have to pick up the pieces and get back to work.”

Penn State had won two in a row before the 60-58 loss at Illinois, something the Terrapins know about, too. Before that, though, the Nittany Lions lost six straight conference games. Newbill had 20 points at Illinois, and has over 1,500 in his career. The Lions have been in 10 games decided by five points or fewer this season, and they’ve been coming on defensively and on the boards.

Following this contest, Maryland is on the road Feb. 8, at Iowa, but then back at Xfinity Feb. 11 for the big rematch with Indiana.

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