What a difference two players make. (Not, for the record, the two players in the headline).
Maryland played their second game with Alex Len and Pe'Shon Howard both in the lineup, and it looked pretty much like the first one did: very good. The Terrapins coasted by Samford in a New Year's Eve matinee, picking up 24 points from Terrell Stoglin en route to a 75-63 win that could've been much bigger.
Really, the game wasn't as close as the score; unlike we've seen in so many recent games, the outcome was never really in doubt, certainly not in the second half. Maryland held a 21-point lead at the 7:00 mark of the second stanza, which had shrunk to only 19 at 4:46. Walkons played the final two minutes and some sloppy play prior to that hurt the lead; the Terrapins easily could've won this one by more than 20, and I might go so far as to say they should've.
But other than that, Maryland looked really good today. And when compared to some of their other games in December, I mean really good. They nearly doubled up Samford on the boards, shot upwards of 50% from the field and from three (9-17), and held the Bulldogs to average rates from the field (42% overall, 29% from three). Most impressive were probably the individual performances; I don't think any single player did poorly, and there were some real standouts - particularly Nick Faust, who dropped 13 in what was probably his best game yet.
There were still some problems on the big scale of things, mostly as it relates to sloppy and lazy play; they shot 60% from the stripe (again? yawn) and more importantly turned the ball over 17 times. Four of those turnovers came from Terrell Stoglin, which is an absolute killer; another three came from Alex Len, which I still think will improve once he figures out not to offensive goaltend and gets used to the game over here. Still, the entire team, Stoglin in particular, needs to tighten up; 17 turnovers against the 56th-worst turnover-forcing defense in the country is a scary thought when Florida State and Clemson sit on the schedule.
But I'm still happy, all things told. Make no mistake; even with the turnovers, this was one of the Terrapins' best performances of the season, probably only just behind the wins over Notre Dame and Colorado. It really was a game they deserved to win by about 20 points or so, and likely would've had they limited their turnovers. The offense clicked very well, with Stoglin not forcing the matter and getting a lot of help from secondary pieces, and the defense was strong on the perimeter and didn't allow many open looks. These are very good signs.
I do want to focus on Faust's performance, though, because I picked him to be the focus of the GameThread and he turned out a great game. He came off the bench today, which I think is going to help him tremendously, and ended up with a statline of 13 points on 5-8 shooting (3-4 from deep), 4 assists, 2 rebounds, and only one turnover. He needed to get a lucky bank shot to go in for him early, but after that he looked confident and like the player everyone thought Maryland was getting out of high school, particularly as it relates to his shooting stroke. But he's certainly not a catch-and-shoot guy; he looked really at home off the dribble, penetrating into the lane before finding an open man. Frankly, it looked like he got a bit of his swagger back tonight. If he can put up that type of performance with any measure of consistency as a sixth man, it will help Maryland out significantly.
And the other big performance came from Len, who is still seriously impressive. He finished with 13 points and 7 boards, and I feel like it's only a matter of time before he ends up with a double-double. His length and athleticism really shined today (again) and it's sort of laughable the things he can do against smaller opposition (which is to say, almost anyone). He's still a little raw and not particularly smooth, but he also works hard on the glass and showed off some hands that were reminiscent of Jordan Williams.
Oh, and he had an insane dunk. I'll get the video up ASAP. It's easy to forget just how athletic he really is.
Pe'Shon Howard looked much like he normally does; he gets a little ambitious with some of his passes, but he still has great floor vision, was extremely active (9 rebounds!), and involved himself basically every way he could except scoring points, which is okay by me. The same could be said for James Padgett; he wasn't nearly as impressive as he's been in recent weeks, but I don't feel I learned anything new from him. He'll never be a guy to consistently rely upon in the post, but he'll always work to get you offensive rebounds, and you have to love that about him.
All things told, it's hard not to get a little excited after seeing the potential that this team so obviously has, particularly as it relates to the individual pieces on the floor; guys like Len and Faust are only scratching the surface of what they could really be. I caution some, uh, caution for short-term projections; remember that Samford is a far cry from the ACC schedule, and that we're still at a loss for what this team will be able to do against middle of the pack conference teams. I'm optimistic, but far from certain that they'll be able to go toe-to-toe with Virginia and N.C. State.
I'm not telling you not to be happy, though. Think about it: at the start of the month, Maryland was lucky to escape FIU and Mt. St. Mary's with wins. At the end of the month, they're unlucky not to be winning by 20. That's a massive turnaround and a very good thing.