There were boos reigning down from the Xfinity Center faithful after Maryland’s most lackluster performance of the season Feb. 25, a demoralizing 14-point loss to an average Iowa team. But the Terps were so frustrated and caught up in what they couldn’t do against the Hawkeyes, they paid little mind to the negative fan reactions.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” head coach Mark Turgeon said when asked about the crowd. “I didn’t hear it. We’re so focused on what we’re trying to do.”
What they’re trying to do is end a three-game losing streak that’s dropped Maryland (22-7, 10-6 Big Ten) into a tie for fourth in the Big Ten after leading the league just over a week ago. And in order to right the ship, per Turgeon, the Terps need to toughen up first and foremost. So adamant about the concept was Turgeon he actually repeated it three separate times during his teleconference Feb. 27.
“Everybody has to do it as a team, from the players to the coaching staff. When things get tough, we’ve just got to be a little bit tougher,” Turgeon said. “Sometimes you overthink things…. It comes back to playing with toughness, playing together and being ready to play…. You have to keep playing with toughness and defending better. That’s really what matters right now.”
Yes, the toughness factor starts on the defensive end, where the Terps resembled a sieve against Iowa. The Hawkeyes hit at a 48.4 percent rate and were a scintillating 61.5 percent from 3-point range. Led by freshman guard Jordan Bohannon’s eight triples, Iowa was 16 of 26 from deep. There were a few times Bohannon and Co. nailed shots overtop defenders, but for the majority of the night the Terps failed to rotate or close quickly.
Turgeon said the defensive miscues could be attributed to “a lot of things.”
“Effort, not playing as hard as in the past, teams playing exceptionally well against us,” he said. “And letting those things bother us as the game goes on. We’ve just got to do be a little tougher when things aren’t going well.”
Another concern for UMD down the stretch of the regular season is how the three freshmen starters will respond to their first prolonged losing streak. Kevin Huerter, Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson have all said their confidence remains intact, but their performances on both ends have been rather inconsistent of late. The trio didn’t play poorly offensively against the Hawkeyes, and Huerter hit three treys, nabbed three steals and had five assists, but none had great nights defensively.
“Their attitudes are good. I talked to them individually after the Iowa game and I expect them to be great in practice and moving forward. They’ve been unbelievable throughout the year, and kids are resilient in the face of adversity,” Turgeon said.
Now, the Terps will hit the road for the final time this regular season Feb. 28 at Rutgers. UMD is 6-2 away from home against Big Ten foes this year, so perhaps they’ll bounce back in Piscataway, N.J.
“I’m really proud of what this team has done on the road. We’ve played well [away] all year, and we’re looking forward to one more [against RU],” said Turgeon, who mentioned center Damonte Dodd should be fine despite a jammed thumb and big man Michal Cekovsky had successful ankle surgery Feb. 27. “Every team is different, but this has been a fun team to coach on the road.”
Rutgers, regardless where it plays, has been a remedy for opponents’ woes this year. The Scarlet Knights (13-16) have won just twice in conference, against 14 setbacks, and haven’t had a victory since beating Penn State six games ago. RU is coming off a 68-64 loss to Michigan Feb. 22, the team’s fifth straight loss.
The Scarlet Knights, however, have had a week to get ready for Maryland, so that could conceivably give RU some edge.
“They’ll be prepared. They’ve had extra days to prepare for us,” Turgeon said. “It’ll be a tough environment for us.”
Of course, Maryland didn’t even play especially well the last time it took on Rutgers -- Jan. 24 in College Park -- and the Terps still emerged with a 67-55 victory. UMD shot 44 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3, but lost the rebounding battle by one; turned the ball over 18 times; and finished under 70 percent from the line. Melo Trimble anchored the attack with 17 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Kevin Huerter had 11 points; eight boards; and six dimes.
But Rutgers was worse, especially offensively. The Scarlet Knights converted at just a 34 percent rate, hit 27 percent of their deep shots and were only 41 percent from the charity stripe.
That’s been the story of Rutgers’ season; simply put, they can’t score.
The Scarlet Knights are dead last in the Big Ten in scoring offense (66 points per game), field goal percentage (41 percent), 3-point percentage (29.7 percent), free-throw percentage (61.6 percent), assists (11.2 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (0.8). They do a pretty decent job on the offensive glass, but that hasn’t translated to increased production.
RU’s defense isn’t exactly a brick wall, but the Scarlet Knights can at least hold their own on that end. RU surrenders 67 points per game (fifth in Big Ten), limiting foes to 40.6 percent shooting (third in Big Ten) and 32 percent from beyond the arc (third in Big Ten). Rutgers has also been proficient on the boards (fourth), protecting the hoop (fifth in blocks) and creating turnovers (third in steals).
“But it’s about us,” Turgeon said. “Every game is a big game. Even if we were coming off three wins instead of three losses we’d approach the game the same way. If we’re 29-0 or 27-2, we’d still approach the next game the same way. I think every coach goes about it that way.”
Point guard Corey Sanders leads the squad in scoring at 13.1 points per game, although he only connects at a 39 percent rate, 29 percent from 3, and 62 percent from the line. Sanders dishes out 3.5 assists per, but he turns the ball over at a dizzying rate. His saving grace is defense, where Sanders ranks among the Big Ten leaders in steals.
Sanders had 15 points on 5-of-19 from the floor, three assists and four turnovers during the first Maryland game.
Joining Sanders in the backcourt is Nigel Johnson, who was benched during RU’s last bout but still played 31 minutes. Either way, he sits second on the squad at 11 points per game. Like Sanders, Johnson has had issues shooting (36 .6percent from the field, 31.7 percent from range) and from the charity stripe (67 percent). He hands out around 2.5 assists and averages more than a steal per game.
Johnson recorded 14 points, four rebounds and two steals the last time he faced UMD.
Rotating in in the backcourt is Mike Williams, who earned the starting nod against Michigan Feb. 22. Williams averages 10 points on 40 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from deep. He grabs five rebounds per and is second on the team in steals.
Williams played 24 minutes against UMD in January, but he had just two points and five rebounds.
In the frontcourt, DeShawn Freeman is third in scoring at 10.9 points a night. He hits at a 49 percent rate and 36 percent from distance. Freeman tops the squad in rebounding (8.1 per) and blocks, but he turns the ball over more than any Scarlet Knight save the main ball-handler.
Freeman had 10 points and six rebounds coming off the bench during UMD-RU Part I.
Rutgers has rotated through a few different forwards this year, but Issah Thiam started the Scarlet Knights’ last game. Thiam’s numbers this year (3.7 points per, 1,7 rebounds per in 17 minutes) are rather pedestrian, and he didn’t do much as a starter against the Wolverines either.
Likewise, former starter Jonathan Laurent hasn’t exactly lit up the gym. Laurent records a couple buckets and rebounds in around 15 minutes of action.
At center, senior C.J. Gettys averages eights points on 55.4 percent shooting. The 7-footer pulls down five boards in 21 minutes a night, but isn’t known as an avid shot blocker.
Gettys did have two rejections against Maryland, however, adding six points and four rebounds as well.
“[Rutgers] plays everybody tough. They really defend, they’re a good rebounding team and we haven’t rebounded well the last couple games. We’ve got to rebound better and keep them off the boards,” Turgeon said. “We think it’s going to be a heck of a tough game.”