While Maryland is sitting well at 4-0 and has a signature win of sorts over Georgetown on its resume, head coach Mark Turgeon knows his team has plenty of room for improvement. He’s encouraged by the Terps’ resiliency early during the 2016-17 campaign, but acknowledged UMD’s rebounding; shooting; and depth must get better for the squad to take the next step.
“We are who we are right now. We’re trying to figure it out. The constant has been our defense, although we didn’t rebound well. And we have to get more efficient offensively. Our offense will come,” Turgeon said a day after UMD knocked off Towson at the Xfinity Center. “But I’m proud of what our guys have been able to do -- come back and win these games. Towson is a good team; they’re bigger and stronger. And I was proud we were able to come back and win it.”
For the season, the height-deprived Terps, who have been scraping by without 7-footer Michal Cekovsky (foot injury) and limited time from forward Ivan Bender, are out-boarding foes by about eight per game. But against Towson Nov. 20 the Tigers held a 46-33 rebounding advantage, including 17 of the offensive variety as opposed to eight for Maryland.
Freshman forward Justin Jackson currently leads UMD with 7.5 boards a night, but the only other Terp who has consistently hit the boards in earnest is diminutive point guard Anthony Cowan (about six per game).
“I’m concerned. We’re not a big team. Hopefully Ivan and Ceko get healthier, and we’ve been playing without Dion [Wiley], who is a big guard,” Turgeon said. “We’ve boxed out better, but we haven’t boxed out tough enough. We’re playing a lot of young kids, and we’re a work in progress right now. It’s a concern, but something we can correct and something we’ll work on.”
Obviously, the absence of two primary bigs, along with Wiley’s slow return from a long-term injury, has sapped Maryland’s depth. The Terps had a meager two bench points in the 71-66 win against Towson, with backup point guard Jaylen Brantley accounting for the lone bucket. Bender didn’t score in his 10 minutes of floor time, while Jared Nickens and L.G. Gill combined to go 0-for-5 subbing in.
“We’ve got to create depth, and that’s my job. I’ve got to get more guys playing better, and we’ve got to get guys healthy,” said Turgeon, who readily pointed out that Maryland’s bench did have a huge 31-point effort in the win over Georgetown. “I just think so much is going to happen over the next month, two months with Ivan getting healthy, Ceko getting healthy and Dion getting used to playing after nine months off. Just getting into a rhythm in practice, getting into a rhythm in games, and hopefully part of that is getting better play out of our bench and getting deeper. Hopefully we’ll continue to build depth and have quality depth.”
Next, Turgeon addressed Maryland’s field-goal woes of late. The Terps are hitting a respectable 41 percent from the field this year, although they’re only 28.7 percent from range. And against the Tigers, UMD canned just 35 percent of its looks, while hitting 9-of-26 from distance.
Earlier during the year, Turgeon said he needed more players to hone their strokes, so the onus wouldn’t fall on junior Melo Trimble to account for most of Maryland’s offensive production. The freshman Jackson responded Nov. 20 by going 8-of-13 and 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, but Trimble still fired up a team-high 15 shots, knocking down just four of them. Freshman guard Anthony Cowan finished 3-for-9, but Kevin Huerter; Damonte Dodd; Nickens; Gill; and Bender didn’t move the meter on the offensive end.
“We’re getting some open shots, but we’re not making them. … Shooting comes and goes. I think the key is that we continue to try to take better shots and don’t settle for the first open 3,” Turgeon said. “Then we have to establish more of an inside game, which will help our perimeter game. And we have to keep getting to the foul line, which will help as well.
“Hopefully our system takes over, and we learn how to score out of our system with different guys.”
Huerter, in particular, should be ready to break out. He’s displayed a repeatable, consistent stroke, and many of his 3-point attempts seemed to be on-point. But he’s drawn iron two of the last three games, going 0-for-4 from deep Nov. 20.
“[Huerter has] had to put a lot in on defense,” Turgeon said. “And we’ve got to get him more shots. I’ve got to do a better job getting him more looks and scoring more consistently for us. But he’s got guts; he’s not afraid to take shots.”
The Terps should have a prime opportunity to regain their collective strokes Nov. 22 in College Park. Maryland will take on 0-2 Stony Brook, which is typically a solid mid-major but looks to be in a transition year.
“It’s a program that’s used to winning. They’re a little like us; they lost four senior starters. We’re both trying to find ourselves a little bit,” said Turgeon, who admitted he’s comfortable with a starting lineup of Trimble; Cowan; Huerter; Jackson and Dodd, but could shake things up as Cekovsky and Bender return. “But they have a new coach, and the have some good pieces. They can score in a variety of ways. I imagine it’ll be another tough game for us.”
Note: Turgeon also commented on Ivan Bender in particular. Although the forward didn’t score against Towson, the Terps’ headman is encouraged by the minutes Bender’s put in coming back from a broken wrist:
“We love Ivan. He’s gutting it out right now; he’s still playing with a broken wrist. But he really knows how to play. He made a huge assist [Nov. 20]. He knows how to play, he’s a smart defender, a good ball-screen defender. But he’s getting used to playing, and will get better and better and more comfortable.”