Throughout this season, the Maryland Terrapins have experienced a lot of the problems that tend to haunt a young team: inconsistency, turnovers, and at times fatigue. Those problems have plagued the Terps on a number of occasions, frustrating fans and coaches alike. Maryland's ability to win seems to rest on whether they can control those mistakes or if they do make mistakes, whether they have enough talent and determination to overcome them as they did against Duke when they won despite turning the ball over 26 times.
On Saturday against Clemson, Maryland was a team in control, one that seemed to mature since their loss to Boston College a few days prior, focused and ready to play despite a slow start to the game. They were able to limit their turnovers to just eight, while also dishing out 19 assists, a ratio that most Terps fans are used to seeing reversed this season.
"Good win for us. I'm proud of our guys. We started slow, the press helped us. 19 assists, 8 turnovers, you haven't seen that from us in a while" Mark Turgeon said following his team's 19th win of the season, which improved them to 7-7 in conference play. "We bounced back. I'm proud of the guys."
Point guard play has been a problem for Maryland all season. Many expected junior Pe'Shon Howard, who was coming off injury, to be the primarily ball handler back in November. But inconsistent play has resulted in Howard's minutes diminishing as sophomores Nick Faust and Dez Wells have taken over the majority of the point guard duties.
"I'm trying to get the hang of it still and trying to execute every play the best I can" Faust said following the game, in which he had three assists and no turnovers while leading all scorers with 18 points. "I am doing my best to run all of the plays that Coach wants us to run. I am trying to do whatever I can so we do not get a turnover. I also try to motivate my teammates."
This was the second game in a row that Faust didn't commit a turnover. Fellow sophomore Dez Wells also had a great day distributing the ball, dishing out seven assists and only turning the ball over once.
"I feel like the stronger our back court is, the better our front court is" freshman Charles Mitchell said after the game in which he provided a quick eight points off the bench in the first half. "If our back court is playing well and our front court is bringing it, I feel like we can be unstoppable. We can be a good team because if they're shooting the outside shot, they'll leave the paint open for one on one match ups and I feel like with the four bigs we've got, no one can stop us one on one in the post. When they're playing good, we're all playing good."
"It's great to have them be able to set the offense up because it takes the pressure off the other guys with dribbling" freshman Jake Layman said after his 12 point performance, including going 2/3 from beyond the arc. "It's great to have them have control over the offense."
Mitchell, along with fellow freshman big Shaq Cleare, were a dominant force in the paint, grabbing 13 of Maryland's 39 rebounds and combining to score 18 points.
Nick Faust acknowledged how important the play of his freshman teammate was to the victory. "It helps a lot having big bodies all throughout the game. It helps us pound on the other teams' big guys. Shaq and Charles help us get inside and outside play."
Mark Turgeon acknowledged after the game that his team was tired after the Boston College game, so they modified their practice schedule to try to have the guys fresh and ready for Clemson on Saturday.
"We really went light to be honestly with you. We took Wednesday off and went really light. Guys are tired. Not only physically tired, they were mentally tired, so we really backed off" Turgeon said.
Turgeon also acknowledged that sophomore center Alex Len has been struggling and offered up some insight into what might be a contributing factor. "A little fatigue, a little dead legged right now. We'll take tomorrow off and hopefully Wednesday he plays better. The one day we went after it, pretty hard in practice, I separated Shaq and Alex and I think Shaq beating on you wears you down, so I need to stay away from that in practice too, so I can have Alex fresh as we move forward."
Turgeon said that Len, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds, needs to maintain a mindset similar to the one he had when playing against Duke's Mason Plumlee. "I think he's got to just pretend he's playing [Mason} Plumlee every game, that might help. Plumlee got him the first time, pretty good. But just have that mindset that you're playing against a good player."
In addition to protecting the basketball, the Terps also utilized their depth against Clemson to secure the win. Ten different Maryland players played at least seven minutes in the game and nine of the ten scored at least two points in the game.
The Terps were also able to utilize a full court press on the Tigers to pick up the tempo of the game and generate some excitement at the Comcast Center after Clemson jumped out to an early lead.
"We press every game. If it works, we'll stick with it. I thought our press cost us the game at Boston College. They scored five points when we had a one point lead. Press worked today. Today we were flat and the building was flat. It was 9-4 and I was like we've got to do something and they were shooting two free throws and they went one for two and it was 10-4 and the press worked. It worked today, it got us a lead and got us energy. It's not going to work every day, but it worked today."
In the end, Maryland notched another important victory, one that saw a lot of positives for this young Terps team. If they can continue to improve and take steps forward without falling back, they could have an exciting end of the season.
"It was a good feeling and it’s nice to win. We are heading in the right direction" Turgeon said. "We got back to rebounding and being more physical today which is what we need to be."
Hopefully they can continue to develop their consistency as they head into the final stretch of their regular season. This is a team that continues to improve and adjust and one that could pose problems down the stretch, especially because of their depth inside.
Lets hope the next few weeks are exciting ones as we head into what will be Maryland's second to last ACC Tournament.