COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- For much of the season, the Terps developed a reputation – an MO if you will – for starting games slowly, falling behind and then charging back in the second half. But of late the trend has been reversed, with UMD fading down the stretch. Head coach Mark Turgeon didn’t think the generalization was necessarily fair, but he allowed fatigue may be setting in as the regular season comes to a close.
“I think it effects everybody. It’s a long year. There’s very few teams that are talented enough to be tired and still win,” Turgeon said ahead of the Terps’ Feb. 25 game against Iowa. “Every team and coaching staff is tired. But we just have to be ready to go 6 p.m. [Feb. 25].”
To combat the issue, Turgeon has issued more days off in-between games this year. He’s also limited practice time for some players who log major minutes like junior point guard Melo Trimble.
On Feb. 23, the day after Maryland fell to Minnesota, Turgeon didn’t want anyone showing up at Xfinity Center. Several players still made the trek over for a shoot-around or a light workout, but the majority stayed in their dorms or hit the books.
“Coach always tells us how important it is to get time off. Guys will come in and just shoot or get a quick little workout in, but not nearly as intense as practice,” wing Kevin Huerter said. “But I think a lot of guys didn’t come over [to the gym Feb. 23]. I just hung out in my room and played [Call of Duty] with Anthony [Cowan]. Definitely the off days are important to us freshmen, who haven’t experienced a long year like this. Hopefully the fatigue won’t catch up to us.”
Huerter and his classmates in particular. Veterans like Trimble and Damonte Dodd have been through it, but the fear is the freshmen Justin Jackson, Huerter and Cowan could be hitting the proverbial “wall.” None of the trio has played particularly well the last couple games in Maryland’s losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“I think every player and situation is different week by week, game by game,” Turgeon said. “We took the day off [Feb. 23] and got away from it, and that’s going to help their energy level. You’ve got to take a break. We needed it. …But I treat Anthony [Cowan] different than I treat Justin [Jackson], and I treat Justin different than I do Melo [Trimble].”
Huerter basically agreed. He also said the reason he and maybe some other Terps haven’t been as potent of late is simply because they’re playing quality opponents.
“We knew going in how good the Big Ten was. Night in and night out you have to bring it. Everyone can beat anyone,” Huerter said. “It’s not that we’ve hit a wall; we’ve just played really good teams. You’re not going to win every night.”
That’s true, but one correctable issue Huerter, Jackson, Cowan and Trimble have had the last game or two is a penchant for hoisting up contested jumpers. Rather than play inside out and feed the post, the Terps have seemingly become 3-happy. They were 7-for-27 in the Minnesota loss, with Trimble pulling a 1-for-6; Cowan a 1-for-4; and Huerter a 1-for-5. Jackson hit 2-of-4 to lead the way.
“I think there were times we settled [against Minnesota]. We don’t like jump shots over hands, and we shot too many of those,” Turgeon said. “But teams are guarding us different, guarding us better. We talk about being aggressive with our guys. They’re smart players; they know what needs to be done. … It’s a process.”
Said Huerter: “Obviously a great shot for us is a layup, but everyone is confident in the way they can shoot [from the outside]. I think even Coach Turgeon will tell you he wants us taking those shots… If we have an open 3, we’re going to take it.”
It would probably behoove Huerter and Co. to find Ivan Bender in the post once in awhile, however. The 6-foot-9 forward had a career high 15 points against Minnesota and could be an able replacement for the injured Michal Cekovsky. Trouble is, Bender has been somewhat of a liability defensively and was a main culprit in UMD’s sieve-like defense against the Gophers.
“Just getting more consistency out of [Bender], and then defensively [improving]. He’s a really smart position player defensively, but it’s hard for Ivan,” Turgeon said. “He’s giving up a lot of height and pounds. But he’s given us more this year than I ever anticipated. He’s been terrific.”
Bender will have another opportunity to prove himself when the Terps host Iowa, which Maryland defeated in Iowa City Jan. 19, 84-76. Maryland shot 57 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3 as five different Terps scored in double figures. Melo Trimble led the way with 20 points and five assists; Justin Jackson had 12 points, four assists, two blocks and six steals; Anthony Cowan recorded 15 points and six dimes; and Damonte Dodd and Jaylen Brantley had 10 points apiece.
The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, connected on just 35.7 percent of their shots and only 25 percent of their deep attempts.
Since that defeat, Iowa (15-13, 7-8 Big Ten) has been rather up-and-down, embarking on a three-game winning streak, followed by a three-game skid. They’re 4-4 overall since Jan. 19, and are coming off a 96-90 overtime victory against Indiana Feb. 21.
Unlike most college teams, Iowa’s bench goes 10 to 11 deep, with many of the backups playing the majority of the game. Apparently that’s helped keep the Hawkeyes fresh and their up-tempo attack humming. After all, Iowa ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring at 80.5 points per game.
But Iowa isn’t exactly the most efficient offensive squad around. The Hawkeyes are ninth in field goal percentage (45 percent), seventh in 3-point shooting (35 percent) and ninth from the foul line (70 percent). They do, however, rack up assists like crazy and are decent enough at limiting mistakes, which is why Iowa is fifth in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. The Hawkeyes give effort on the offensive glass too, giving them more second-chance opportunities than 10 other Big Ten teams.
In part because opponents are granted so many possessions, Iowa’s defense ranks last in the league at 78 points allowed per. But, quite honestly, the Hawkeyes have not been great at stunting foes’ drives or rotating on shooters. Iowa’s opponents shoot 44 percent from the field (13th in the Big Ten) and 36 percent from 3 (11th). Furthermore, the Hawkeyes have had issues boxing out, ranking dead last in defensive rebounding.
Iowa does force its share of turnovers, though, sitting first in steals and sixth in turnover margin.
“Iowa likes to run. Last time we played them, we didn’t like our transition defense. We’d get baskets and they’d beat us up the floor,” Huerter said. “They can beat anyone, and they’ve beaten a lot of really good teams this year.”
Up top, point guard Jordan Bohannon puts up about nine points and around 4.5 assists a night. He’s a solid-ball handler who only turns it over maybe twice each night. Bohannon is not the most effective shooter, however, connecting at a 35 percent rate from the field and 37 percent from range.
Bohannon was just 4-of-14 against the Terps Jan. 19, while he dropped five assists.
Teaming with Bohannon in the backcourt is supposedly freshman Isaiah Moss, but he might find himself riding pine against UMD. Moss played just five first-half minutes in Iowa’s last game and seems to be falling out of favor with the staff. For the season, he’s averaging 6.6 points on 42 percent from the floor and 36 percent from 3, although his defense and rebounding have been questionable.
Moss had eight points in 15 minutes during the first UMD bout.
With Moss’ time decreasing, the Hawkeyes have rotated in guards Christian Williams and Brady Ellingson. The former is good for a bucket, a rebound and maybe two assists in around 15 minutes, while the latter puts up five points on 49 percent shooting in the same amount of floor time.
Neither Williams nor Ellingson made much noise during Maryland-Iowa Part I.
The leader in the backcourt, meanwhile, is senior wing Peter Jok, who is No. 1 in the league in scoring at 21 points a night. Jok hits at a 43 percent rate, 36 percent from 3 and 92 percent from the line. He’s also Iowa’s top rebounder (6.0 per game), second-best assist man (2.5 per) and is second in steals.
Jok did not play particularly well against Maryland Jan. 19, scoring 14 points on 4-of-12 from the field, in addition to recording boards and three assists.
“[Jok] had a back injury that game, and that helped us. He went out with the injury and still scored 14 points against us. I thought he was terrific,” Turgeon said. “He creates unbelievable problems for us, because he’s so good at reading screens, you’ve got to be aware of him shooting, and he’s getting to the foul line. He’s second in assists too. He’s a heck of a player.”
Another wing who rotates in quite a bit is Nicholas Baer, who played 35 minutes off the bench in Iowa’s win over Indiana. Baer, a former starter, usually gets more than 20 minutes, averaging seven points on 42 percent from the field but only 33 percent from deep. He’s known more for his defense; Baer leads the team in blocks (39 total) and steals (38 total). He’s also tied for the team-high in rebounds at 6.0 per game.
Baer had seven points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals in the initial Terps’-Hawkeyes’ battle.
In the frontcourt, Tyler Cook is second on the squad at 12 points a night on 51 percent shooting. But, despite lining up on the block, Cook isn’t the most potent rebounder (4.5 per) or rim protector around.
Cook had eight points and seven boards versus UMD the first time around.
Rounding out the frontcourt is Ahmad Wagner, who starts but doesn’t necessarily receive starters’ minutes. Wagner sees less than 15 minutes of action, averaging five points and three rebounds.
Wagner actually played a decent game against Maryland, going for 12 points and six boards the last time out.
Rotating in with Wagner is Dom Uhl, who scores 4.3 points per game, while showing touch from beyond the arc. Uhl nabs about four rebounds as well.
Uhl did not play Jan. 19 versus Maryland.
Yet another post player of note, Cordell Pemsl has started half the contests this year. In 19 minutes a night, Pemsl averages nine points on 61.4 percent shooting. He grabs five boards per and sits second on the squad in blocks.
Pemsl racked up nine points, four boards and two blocks in the first Maryland affair.
Last but not least, there’s forward Ryan Kriener, who is good for two baskets and three rebounds in 15 minutes of action.
Kriener chipped in four points and six boards in the first Iowa-Maryland game.
Regardless of the foe, though, the Terps are more concerned with reverting to form and ending their two-game skid. And they’ll have what Huerter called “extra motivation,” because Maryland’s national-championship squad will be in attendance for its 15-year reunion.
“We don’t want to lose in front of those people,” Huerter said. “We want to put on a good show and hopefully get the win.”