COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Turns out the Carolina bluebloods are still trying to take a few extra swipes at their former brethren two years after leaving the ACC. Following an 89-81 loss to North Carolina Dec. 1, Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon said the Terps had what he dubbed “travel problems” leaving Chapel Hill, N.C. Apparently the Greyhound company didn’t provide the most prudent drivers, or, shall we say, the most proficient busses.
Thus, UMD didn’t arrive back in College Park, Md., until 6 p.m. Dec. 2, precluding the squad from practicing until a day before its 7 p.m. home game against St. Francis (Pa.) Dec. 4.
“It definitely brought back a lot of memories,” said junior college transfer Jaylen Brantley, who, more than any other Terp, is used to long bus rides after trekking through the Texas countryside at Odessa Community College. “We [Odessa] drove everywhere. Eight hours, five hours, an hour, two hours. It was tough for other guys [Terps] used to flying charter.
“But it made us tougher in a lot of ways. Some people wouldn’t understand, probably. Just sitting on a bus for five hours, it’s tough. I think it will help us.”
Well, that’s one way to look at it. Another way is this:
“I’d rather fly,” laughed power forward Robert Carter, a transfer like Brantley, but one who did not have to endure mind-numbing bus rides at Georgia Tech.
After some prodding, though, Carter agreed with his teammate.
For the most part.
“Looking at the positives, we grew as a team and continue to just build relationships with each other and learn about each other,” said Carter, who mentioned the Terps “got better” and showed plenty of gumption fighting back against UNC, despite the loss. “But it was a long trip (laughs).”
Turgeon, frank as always, admitted he didn’t know what the squad’s energy level would be like Dec. 3 during practice. In fact, Turgeon himself acknowledged, “I’m tired.”
“But we’ll be ready to go by [Dec. 4],” the coach insisted. “But, yeah, [the bus ride] was old school. It wasn’t like Jacksonville State [Turgeon’s former employer], but it is what it is.”
What it was, was a chance for the Terps to assess themselves -- thoroughly. Turgeon instructed the bus driver to stop off at a Walmart just outside Raleigh, N.C., where he quickly ran in to purchase a pack of rewritable discs (talk about old-school). Then, after copying over the UNC game film -- and in-between grabbing a little shuteye and catching up on schoolwork -- the team broke down the tape. After that, they had a 45-minute heart-to-heart, deep basketball discussion (or as deep as it can get with teenage/early 20s college athletes).
“We like to talk, we like to communicate, and that’s one of the things this team is still getting better at,” Turgeon said. “Our discussion [Dec. 2] was much better. I want them to take ownership of the team. It’s their team, and so we took steps forward … having healthy discussions about basketball.”
Said Carter: “Watching the film [of the UNC loss], learning from that, learning about each other, it’ll make us a better team.”
Another thing that will make the Terps better as a team is Brantley’s progressive development. The backup point guard received his most extensive minutes during the Cancun Challenge right before Thanksgiving, responding with his best basketball all season. Brantley only saw a minute of court time backing up lead point Melo Trimble against UNC, but Turgeon and the Terps were encouraged.
It’s no secret Maryland needs another competent ball-handler to take the pressure off Trimble, giving him a few minutes reprieve each night.
“The first couple games I was kind of nervous,” Brantley said of his shaky start, which was wrought with turnovers, dubious passing and questionable shot selection. “It’s definitely different than JUCO; a lot bigger stage. I felt the [Rhode Island] game I was most comfortable, and I’m just trying to build off of that.
“The next step is Coach Turgeon just trusting in me. He has to find more confidence in me. I think him playing me in the bigger games, that will show he’s definitely gained more confidence in me. And just him seeing me be more confident in myself [will help]. I think my teammates are definitely more confident in me playing in bigger games.”
Carter said as much Dec. 3, and Turgeon concurred. The headman admitted it’s imperative Brantley continue taking strides if Maryland hopes to reach its potential. Otherwise, the Terps’ backcourt figures to be a significant liability heading into Big Ten play, where pesky, guard-oriented squads like Ohio State; Indiana; and Michigan State figure to take advantage.
“I thought Jaylen, in his very short time in there [against UNC], I thought he played well. He gained confidence, and the players are gaining confidence in him too,” Turgeon said.
When he enters the game, Brantley’s main responsibility is to guide the offense, facilitate, and make smart decisions. He’s not expected to replace Trimble’s scoring prowess, by any means.
Even so, Brantley had been known to can the occasional triple, displaying a rather “sweet stroke” at Odessa. But he’s yet to record a single field goal of any variety at Maryland, tallying just one free-throw.
“It’s just different,” Brantley explained. “Coming from last year shooting jump shots till now, when I see a jump shot it’s just not the same. It’s not just coming down and shooting it like [in JUCO]. I have to slow down a little bit, see the defense and put up good shots.”
Brantley should have his share of chances Dec. 4 against St. Francis. The Red Flash are 3-3 and have losses at Kent State, Notre Dame and Maryland Eastern-Shore. They aren’t particularly deep or tall, with just one starter over 6-feet-8. They only score 71 points per game, shoot about 41 percent from the field (33 percent from range), and allow foes to rack up 71.5 points per game on 43 percent shooting.
The team’s most effective player, senior guard Greg Brown, puts up 13 points a night and shoots 49 percent from the field. Classmate Ben Millaud-Meunier, another guard, leads the squad at 13.5 points per, but has just a 33 percent field-goal percentage. Freshman forward Josh Nebo represents the Red Flash’s No. 1 rebounder at 6.5 per game, to go along with a team-high eight blocks.
“We talked about how we have to respect our opponents [Dec. 2]. Hopefully we will and hopefully the building [Xfinity Center] will be energetic,” Turgeon said in advance of Dec. 3. “I think we learned from the Rider game and the Cleveland State game we need to be better prepared to be successful.”
Despite the lack of rest and the truncated practice time, Carter expects the Terps to show out Dec. 4. He’s well aware Maryland is developing a reputation for slow starts and playing “down to the competition,” but vows UMD will improve moving forward.
“You have to be ready for everybody in today’s game of college basketball,” he said. “The North Carolina game is over. We can’t think about that game. Now we have St. Francis. We have to come out ready to play, win that game, and then move on.”
Note: Turgeon was asked about Maryland’s new football coach, D.J. Durkin, whom he met Dec. 3. Here’s what the hoops headman had to say:
“I talked to him before the press conference and that was the first time I met him and his wife,” he said. “I like his energy. We need football to be good. Not to put too much pressure on him (laughs). But I think we can feed off each other. We have great home crowds [in Xfinity Center], and he can bring recruits in here … And if they get it rolling, that helps us when we bring recruits into [Byrd Stadium].
“We kind of understand what each other are going through, the two moneymaker sports and the pressure that’s on each other. And hopefully I can help him navigate things.
“But he’s already got it figured out. He’s terrific. I think he’s going to be just fine.”