COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon admitted he’s not always on his “A” game with the media after losses. Since he wants to win every time out, he said sometimes he’ll overlook positives or silver linings in favor of coulda-woulda-shouldas. So, following the Terps’ one-point defeat against Purdue Feb. 4, Turgeon, after some downtime and tape study, decided there was plenty to take away from the 73-72 affair.
“Whenever you lose, and even when you win, you look at your team and where you are, and you kind of reflect on that. I thought we played really well [against Purdue]. Defensively at times we were really good, and offensively at times we were good,” Turgeon said Feb. 6 ahead of the Terps’ Feb. 7 game at Penn State. “But we move on and have to get better. As a coach, you don’t just think about [the last game], you think about four weeks from now and how to get better. … There were a lot of positives out of the loss. The good thing is we don’t have to wait very long to play another game.”
Regardless of whether the check mark went in the win or loss column, it was yet another nail-biter for the young Terps. More often that not, Maryland has figured out a way to eke out close games (they’re 20-3, after all), but Turgeon was asked if perhaps the defeat might help his team down the line so they don’t fall victim to the same late mistakes.
Adversity, as the old saying goes, can often be a more powerful teacher than triumph.
Turgeon’s not buying it.
“Come on, we’ve won almost every close game,” he said. “Sometimes the other team is going to make more plays than you do and the ball’s not going to bounce your way. … The crazy thing is I never thought we were going to lose. It never entered my mind. But it happened, and our guys put in a great effort.
“I got a lot of texts from my guys [after Purdue], and the kids are resilient. They’re moving on. They wanted to win, they were hurting, but they’re ready for the next game. They know they’re 20-3 and have done a pretty nice job.”
Where they’ve done a pretty nice job in particular is away from Xfinity Center. Maryland is 5-0 on the road in Big Ten play, somehow overcoming raucous crowds; large deficits; shooting/free-throw woes; and some mental mistakes to emerge victorious.
Turgeon, for his part, couldn’t put a finger on his squad’s road success, opting for buzzwords (i.e. resiliency) and round-about explanations.
“I just don’t know,” the coach said. “We’ve been comfortable [on the road]. We’ve been out there a lot, so we kind of got used to it. And we had some success early [on the road], and it carried over. … We’ve had the same confidence and poise on the road, and we’ve been consistent with it all year.”
It helps that freshman starters Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson haven’t wavered in the slightest. Turgeon, who mentioned the trio has ably adapted to being back in class and balancing academics with practice, said he expects each to continue playing at a high level, no matter where the game takes place.
Another boost should come in the form of junior forward Michal Cekovsky. The oft-injured 7-footer finally saw extended action Feb. 4 after slowly working his way back from injury the previous three outings. Cekovsky ended up playing 13 minutes against Purdue and chipped in 10 points, three rebounds and an eye-popping six blocks. And if not for a slight foot tweak, Turgeon said Cekovsky probably would have seen even more time.
“Ceko was terrific. That was fun to watch. I’d like to see his minutes continue to go up,” said Turgeon, who noted Cekovsky’s foot is fine, while allowing injured guard Dion Wiley is close to returning as well. “It’s exciting to see the way he’s coming on, giving us a post presence…. Hopefully we can get him a few more minutes depending on fouls and the game situation.”
Besides Cekovsky’s breakout, junior guard Melo Trimble reverted to freshman form Feb. 4. Trimble ended up getting to the free-throw line 15 times, canning 14 of them in the process. It was the most foul shots Trimble has hit since making 16 of 17 against Towson back in November.
Turgeon attributed the sudden uptick to both Trimble’s assertiveness off the dribble and some friendly whistles from the men in stripes.
“It was good to see. I think he should shoot 10 to 12 [free throws] every game. He’ll continue to do that and we’ll continue to drive the ball – that’s what we do,” Turgeon said. “The big thing is [Trimble] stepped up and made his free throws, and I thought that kept us in the game. Hopefully that will become contagious and rub off on the rest of the guys.”
After the Purdue home loss dropped Maryland to 8-2 in the Big Ten, the Terps head right back on the road to State College, Pa., where they’ll face a struggling Penn State squad. The Nittany Lions have lost two in a row and five of six, dropping their record to 12-12 and 4-7 in the Big Ten. That said, PSU has played its foes fairly tough of late, falling to Illinois by four; losing to Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., in triple overtime; and most recently falling to Rutgers by two.
“Penn State is really talented,” Turgeon said. “They had a great recruiting class, they’re playing a lot of young guys like we are, they have depth, and they have good players. They play four guards a lot like we do.”
Unlike Maryland, Penn State sits near the bottom of the conference in most major statistical categories. The Nittany Lions are 11th in scoring (72 points per game) and 13th in scoring defense (72 points allowed per), which, naturally, translates to a woeful scoring margin (plus-0.3) that ranks just ahead of Nebraska for worst in the league.
Penn State shoots 41.4 percent from the field (13th) and has an assist-to-turnover ratio that sits ninth, although PUS is decent from 3-point range (36 percent) and the foul line (74.3 percent; fourth).
The Nittany Lions are 10th in field-goal percentage defense (42.6 percent), 10th in 3-point defense (35.1 percent) and dead last in rebounding margin (minus-3.2). They do, however, get their share of blocks and steals, ranking fourth in both categories, while they’re third in turnover margin.
One of the reasons Penn State has been somewhat erratic, especially offensively, is their freshman point guard has gone through growing pains. Tony Carr averages more than four assists per game, but he coughs the ball up about three times per and isn’t known as a force defensively. Carr does average a dozen points a night, which is second on the squad, but he shoots just 36 percent from the field and from range.
The Nittany Lions’ most potent offensive threat plays next to Carr at the two-guard spot. Junior Shep Garner leads the team at 13 points per game, shooting 40.3 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from distance, although he doesn’t get to the line that often. He dishes out just under three assists against just over two turnovers per too. Garner also averages more than a steal a night defensively.
At wing, sophomore Josh Reaves is back in the starting lineup and represents Penn State’s most active backcourt defender, topping the squad in steals (43). Reaves averages about eight points per game on 42 percent from the field, but his 3-point stroke has been off thus far (28.6 percent). Reaves is good for two assists and about two turnovers a night too.
Junior Payton Banks, meanwhile, rotates in at wing and is averaging 11.5 points per game on 39 percent from the floor and from distance. The former starter, Banks typically plays about half the game.
In the frontcourt, freshman forward Lamar Stephens has played well at times during his first year. Stephens is putting up 11.4 points per game on a solid 43.4 percent from the field. He’s not much of a 3-point marksman and tends to turn the ball over, but Stephens is second on the team at 5.6 rebounds per.
Finally, at power forward, junior Julian Moore was inserted into the starting lineup recently, although he doesn’t typically play a ton of minutes. Moore averages around three points and three boards in 16 minutes of action.
Also note redshirt freshman Mike Watkins, who has started the majority of the games and plays about 23 minutes a night. Watkins puts up 10 points on 56 percent from the floor, and he leads the squad in rebounds (8.1. per). The 6-9 forward is also one of the best rim protectors in the conference, recording just under three per game.
“It seems like all our games are close … It’ll probably be another close game [against Penn State]. We’ll have to figure out how to score one more point than them if it is close,” Turgeon said. “But we’ll prepare for [Penn State] like everybody else. I think this time of year, it’s most important to get ready mentally.”