After a bit of a road bump that had Terps nation questioning whether the Maryland hoops squad was really a top 25 team, head coach Mark Turgeon’s crew has responded with a pair of gutty victories.
Following a stretch that saw UMD drop three straight away games, sandwiched around two rather uninspiring home wins, the Terps avenged a 19-point loss at Indiana with a 68-66 win at Xfinity Center Feb. 11 before silencing some road doubters with a 76-73 triumph over Penn State Feb. 14.
Once in danger of dropping out of the Big Ten’s top tier, the two latest victories have the No. 19 Terps (21-5) tied for second in the league at 9-4.
“[We’re in a] much better place,” Turgeon said on his teleconference Feb. 16. “I know how good Indiana is, and I think they’ll prove that the rest of the season and in the NCAA tournament. Penn State, their coach has a lot of fight and they came back several times on us. It’s hard to win up there [in University Park, Pa.].
“Teams are playing well against us. They are fired up to play against Maryland right now, so to get those two wins was huge. Being 9-4 instead of 7-6 is a huge difference.”
Turgeon said beating IU at home, after being taken to task by the Hoosiers’ 3-point marksmen in Bloomington, Ind., gave his squad a renewed sense of confidence. The Terps had been struggling on both ends of the floor leading into that Feb. 11 bout, but Maryland responded by holding IU to 37 percent shooting, while connecting on almost 50 percent of their own attempts.
UMD then followed up by hitting 49 percent of its shots Feb. 14, and holding Penn State to 41.7 percent from the floor.
“We just continue to fight and do the best we can,” Turgeon said. “[But] I think the Indiana game gave us conference to go on the road, and the start of the second half against Penn State was as well as we’ve played or looked in a long time -- probably since the Michigan State game at home. It was good for me to see, and I think our guys are gaining confidence going into the stretch run.”
There were several encouraging individual developments that transpired in University Park, Pa., on Valentine’s Day. Senior wing Dez Wells looked more in-synch with the offense and only committed two turnovers. He also pulled down six rebounds and scored a game-high 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting, plus a 7-of-7 performance from the charity stripe.
Junior forward Jake Layman had his second straight solid outing, putting up 13 points and recording two big blocks defensively. And freshman point guard Melo Trimble has now hit the 20-point threshold in back-to-back games, this time nailing four of his six shots and all 12 of his free throws. Trimble grabbed six boards and dished our four assists too.
“[Dez] was terrific. Getting to the rim, that’s Dez,” Turgeon said. “Melo was great, our spacing was great. … and you can add a Jake Layman too. It’s really a good feeling to have three guys I can go to. Some [teams] have one, some [teams] have zero. I have three guys I can go to. … Those three are carrying us offensively right now.”
The team free throw shooting, though, has helped the Terps eke out these close victories of late. Maryland converted 21 of 26 foul shots, including a 14-for-19 performance in the second half, to down Penn State. UMD is now ranked fourth nationally in made free throws (438), and is 25th in foul shot percentage (74.0).
After the Nittany Lions affair, however, PSU head coach Pat Chambers questioned some of the calls against his team. In particular, he singled out Trimble, suggesting he was the beneficiary of a couple “ticky-tack” fouls.
Trimble, of course, has earned conference-wide prominence for his ability to get to the line. He’s seventh in the nation and first in the Big Ten in made free throws (145) and 21st (second in the Big Ten) with 167 attempts. As aforementioned, he drew six fouls Feb. 14 and nailed all 12 of his ensuing foul shots.
“I do think Melo deserves to go to the line; I think he deserves to go to the line a lot more. He gets beat up quite a bit,” Turgeon said. “It’s been hard for Melo to get to the line on the road… [But] it’s an art, and he’s good at it. He gets fouled a lot, so hopefully [Chambers’, etc.] comments don’t affect the way officials call Melo, because he’s really good at drawing fouls.”
Turgeon was then asked if Trimble had somehow violated the “unwritten rule” of garnering too many foul calls as a freshman. Typically, the reporter suggested, upperclassmen are the beneficiaries of favorable officiating, so perhaps Trimble’s situation was drawing the ire of opposing coaches.
“I don’t think what year he is has anything to do with. A young kid can be pretty good, I think it’s been pretty obvious in today’s world,” Turgeon said. “Melo is physically built like a senior. I just hope [the officials] keep calling it the way it should be called, and Melo continues to get rewarded for a skill that he has --- and that’s his ability to draw fouls.”
Regardless of how his freshman point guard is perceived, Turgeon and the Terps will continue to trudge on. Next up is a Feb. 19 home date at 7 p.m. against Nebraska, followed by two more College Park, Md., games versus Wisconsin Feb. 24 and Michigan Feb. 28.
As for the upcoming game, Maryland may be catching a bit of a break against a Nebraska squad that’s struggled during conference play. The Huskers (13-12, 5-8 Big Ten) have lost three in a row and five of their last six games, and are 1-8 (0-6 Big Ten) in road games this year.
While Nebraska -- which has been hit by the injury bug this year -- has played some foes tough in Pinnacle Bank Arena this year, the squad’s six conference losses away from Lincoln, Neb., have come by an average of 14 points -- and none by less than double digits.
“In this league,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said, “it’s easy to lose momentum. And it’s hard to get it back.”
The Huskers, however, do boast a few potent threats Maryland has to be aware of. Junior guard Terran Petteway, who transferred from Texas Tech, is averaging 18.7 points and five rebounds per game (to go along with a team-high 25 blocks), while junior forward Shavon Shields is putting up 15.8 and 6.2 per.
Beyond those two, however, Nebraska doesn’t have many other reliable scoring options. The Huskers shoot a respectable 42 percent from the floor while holding opponents to a 39 percent clip, but they are just 29 percent from 3-point range. Nebraska is also almost minus-3 in rebounding margin and turn the ball over about 13 times a night, two of the primary reasons it has a sub-.500 league record.
“We just don’t make 3s at all,” Miles said. “I don’t know if we need to overdue the shooting part, but it’s frustrating when you can’t spread the floor and make 3s. We’re built on drivers, but we hit a good amount of 3s last year. This year they’re just not falling.
“But our defense has been really solid, if you look at the advanced stats and things like that. Our defense seems to be good enough, but apparently defense is overrated. And it’s certainly overrated when your offense is down at the bottom of the country. … We better figure [the offense] out in a hurry, and see if we can’t get a run going here late.”
Turgeon also addressed Big Ten alignment and how UMD has adjusted. He then gave his thoughts on how preseason prognosticators suggested the Terps would finish 10th in the conference:
On new conference
"It’s a lot of work just trying to get to know all the teams, players, coaches, their style. We still don’t have a great feel for that, but luckily for us people don’t have a great feel for us either, which I think helps this first year. As the league [schedule] has gone on, people have gotten a pretty good feel for us.
"But it is what it is. I guess going through the process is harder than when it starts, being a lame duck for a couple years. That was really the tough part. But the Big Ten has been great to us. The coaches are great, the teams are great. It’s been really fun. It’s great to be wanted and it’s good to be in a great basketball league."
On being picked 10th
"I think that was rightfully so with all the things that happened in the offseason and relying on a freshman point guard. So I wasn’t shocked; I thought it could have been worse but I thought we had a chance to be a pretty good team. We’ve been good, we’ve been lucky. The ball has bounced our way.
"But the good thing for me is I think we can get better. We’re relaxed now, and we’re getting used to people playing really good against us because we’re ranked. We’re fighting through it and becoming a better team as the season goes on."
Terps In A 'Much Better Place'
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