So yeah, it's a little depressing that Maryland has to scrap out victories over teams like Florida International. But without two major contributors? I'm still in "a win is a win" mode.
The Terrapins got another 20 points from Terrell Stoglin tonight, though with a 4-13 shooting performance it was probably one of his least impressive performances of the season. The real story is elsewhere, particularly as Stoglin had to sit for much of the second half with four fouls.
Maryland's first half was arguably their worst twenty minutes of the season - calling it sloppy would be an understatement - and entered the break down 7. Honestly, they were lucky it was only that much; FIU led by as many as 11 in the first half. The Terrapins fought back in the second half thanks to significantly more sensible play and a big performance by Ashton Pankey, who sat out much of the first half with what appeared to be a busted lip. Maryland never really pulled away, even after they took the lead for good around the 9:00 mark, but held off a late FIU rally to finish the game 65-61 and win their third-straight.
The obvious thing to talk about, at least to me, is the difference in the way Maryland played in the first and second halves. In that first half, FIU shot 50% from three and Maryland turned the ball over every third possession. In the second half, FIU was 1-5 from deep and Maryland had only three turnovers. Big turnaround. It wasn't really about Stoglin so much as it was about Maryland's sloppy play in the first half and subsequent focused turnaround, particularly on defense.
In case you forgot (I think I might've) Maryland will be in a battle with everyone. It's just the way it is with this bunch, and it might hold some water even after Pe'Shon Howard and Alex Len join the squad. I'll take a win, no matter how ugly, every day of the week.
Still, someone really needs to figure out what's going on with Maryland's perimeter defense. They were 10th in the ACC heading into tonight, and then gave up 5-10 shooting from deep in the first half to a team that, frankly, is historically pretty poor from outside. Any team will hit open looks, and that's what Maryland gave up. Those types of performances will sink Maryland against better opposition.
Things got better in the second half. They were much more focused defensively and did a better job of fighting through screens and not allowing open shots. FIU's insistence on running down the shot clock helped quite a bit, too. (Isaiah Thomas isn't a great coach.)
Offensively, they were at a bit of a loss tonight. Stoglin wasn't hitting and, as we've so often seen, they didn't really have anyone else to turn to. Sean Mosley clearly went hunting for his own shot more, but he also showed why that's a risky strategy: when Mosley starts to force things, you start to see airballs and questionable looks. He's better when he lets the game come to him. Today, he couldn't, and even though he had 12 points, I think most would consider his overall offensive performance pretty questionable.
Another problem was Maryland's consistent inability to shoot over the zone FIU went to. Maryland hasn't had a legitimate zone-buster in seemingly a decade (does Mike Jones qualify?) and shot only 1-10 tonight. Getting shooters in this team, if it wasn't already a priority, almost surely is one now.
Much of Maryland's offense came down low, particularly from Pankey. Maryland's offensive rebound rate was an incredible 50% - yes, they had half of all available offensive rebounds - and that will continue to serve them well, but I was more impressed by the way Pankey fit into the offense. He has a surprisingly nice touch around the rim, good court awareness, and a decent free throw stroke. He's really been a pleasant surprise when he's gotten extended run this year. Maryland doesn't win this game without him.
Elsewhere: Nick Faust continued to be a mixed bag, Mosley continued to provide good defense, and Pankey threw in two critical late blocks. But I don't think we learned too much more about the individuals tonight.
The big takeaway: it's not good that Maryland keeps finding itself in close games, but it's good that they're finding themselves winning close games. Maybe some of that is luck, but a lot of it is where this team is mentally: they have a lot of fight, a lot of determination, and are actually pretty composed. These traits will serve them well when more talent makes its way into the roster.
Looking forward, Maryland doesn't have another game until the 23rd, over a week away. They'll have plenty of time to work on themselves. Good thing, too, because there's still plenty of work to be done.