BALTIMORE, Md. -- When questioned about Maryland’s relative 3-point shooting woes this year, head coach Mark Turgeon’s mantra has been the same: The shots will eventually start falling. This team has too many good shooters for them not to.
The Terps have summoned their inner Steph Curry/Klay Thompson for fits and starts this season, before they finally, maybe, perhaps seemed to turn the corner Dec. 12 against Jacksonville Sate. For the first time this year, Maryland was dialed in from distance for the full 40 minutes, canning 65 percent of their triples.
But after an extended layoff, the Terps’ marksmen reverted to rusty form Dec. 20 against Charlotte in Baltimore. In a rather woeful first-half performance all-around, UMD put up eights 3-pointers, and knocked down just one of them -- which just happened to be Maryland’s very first field-goal attempt of the game, when Justin Jackson nailed a trey.
“I didn’t expect us to be great at the start of the game. We never really got rhythm… but as the game went on we got a little better,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “It’s hard this time of year with finals and time off.”
The rather inauspicious shooting display was exacerbated by junior wing Jared Nickens, who, playing for the injured Dion Wiley (sprained wrist), hoisted up two 3s that were lucky to draw iron. His confidence was obviously shaken by a season-long slump, and coming off a game where he played nary a minute during the first half.
But Nickens recovered in the second half, hitting two late 3s to regain some semblance of his past self. In some ways, the one-time sharpshooter served as a microcosm for the entire team Dec. 20 (and, really, in many games this season): Start slow, finish strong.
Indeed, after Turgeon lit into his team at halftime once again, the Terps, trailing 37-36, responded by playing a complete 20 minutes and executing on both ends of the floor. The shooters ended up catching fire, drilling 10 of 16 triples as Maryland pulled away for a rather easy win in Baltimore. Trimble, Kevin Huerter, Jaylen Brantley and Nickens all hit at least two 3-pointers, leading a barrage that sucked the life out of Charlotte.
“We’ve been through this all year, being down at the beginning of the game. Then at halftime, Coach Turgeon gave us an earful and we got stops, rebounded and made shots,” said point guard Melo Tribmle, who finished with a game-high 21 points and drained three second-half 3s.
Although the Terps weren’t dialed in from beyond the arc during the first half, that’s not what had Turgeon upset. He was more concerned with the 12 turnovers, the lazy passes and lack of execution defensively.
Once again, he told his team if they played well in other areas, the shots would eventually fall.
And, once again, they did.
“We’ve changed our approach. What I was really proud of is we had 10 second chance points at halftime and 15 at the line, and our other baskets were layups. We tell them not to settle [for 3s],” Turgeon said. “And I think our guys are starting to figure it out. We’re playing inside-out, we got into a groove in the second half, Melo hit some open looks, Kevin hit some tough ones… [Charlotte] did a good job changing their defense, but once we adjusted to that we were pretty good.”
Yes, the 49ers do deserve some credit here for their various zone looks that seemed to throw Maryland off. The Terps have struggled against zones much of this season, and Dec. 20 it took them awhile to solve Charlotte’s.
“We didn’t expect them to start in zone. We’ve been practicing against zone a lot, and it showed in the second half, but they did some things differently in their zone and we just couldn’t get any rhythm,” Turgeon said. “But in the second half we got into a rhythm and were terrific… We started making shots, and your offense always looks better when you’re hitting shots.”
Said Huerter, who missed his first two 3s, but recovered to hit a pair of deep looks to extend UMD’s lead in the second half:
“We always stress with the zone to play inside-out. We try not to pass around the perimeter, try to at least get a foul line or post touch every possession. We started to do that in the second half and we started to hit shots, which definitely helps.”
Charlotte head coach Mark Price said he was proud of his team’s effort during the initial 20 minutes. He praised the 49ers’ energy and their ability to take the Terps out of their game. But, eventually, UMD’s talent and depth won out.
“You gotta pick your poison sometimes,” Price said. “We wanted to mix up our defenses a little bit and keep them off-balance and not get a rhythm offensively. I thought it worked pretty well in the first half, but they made some adjustments … and their firepower just caught up to us in the second half.”
Trouble for the Terps is, that firepower alone won’t be enough to knock off many Big Ten foes. Maryland’s backcourt, which entered the 49ers’ affair shooting just 33 percent from distance, must find a more consistent shooting touch -- as well as becoming more effective in other key areas like team defense, rebounding, passing, etc. -- or they’ll be mired in holes they won’t be able to claw out of.
Turgeon and Co. realize this, but, on the dawn of conference play Dec. 27, the coach chose to end on a positive note after the Charlotte bout.
“I feel great about my team, I really do. They answer the bell every time. We’ve responded. We’re going to take some time off and enjoy it, the guys have earned it, and then we’re going to come back and get better,” he said. “The key for us is getting healthy. Not only does it effect games, but it effects our depth in practice. Hopefully when we come back from Christmas we’ll have some guys healthy.”