The Maryland basketball team has had a terrific season, and the Terps' 11-point vanquishing of Purdue on Saturday only makes it better. But while Maryland has rung up 21 wins and solidified itself as a championship contender, the Terps have had an overhanging turnover problem that's never quite gone away.
They had at least 10 giveaways in all but four games this season entering Saturday, and in those other four, they had nine each. It's been a consistent drip-drop of ball security malfeasance, with the Terps rarely standing out as a possession-savvy team. But perhaps Maryland got started in the right direction on Saturday, when it posted a season-low eight giveaways against the Boilers. Purdue isn't much good at forcing turnovers, but give credit where it's due.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon describes it as a matter of decision-making. He believes his team has made recent progress here, and that's statistically true, to an extent. The Terps had back-to-back 9-turnover outings against Iowa and Michigan State, then 13 and 16 at Ohio State and Nebraska. So this makes three solid turnover outings in five games. For a team with five likely professionals in its starting lineup, that's at least a start.
"I told the guys at halftime, 'Guys, I give you a lot of freedom.' There's a lot of freedom in the way we play, which players want. They're not thinking about things. But you've got to make better decisions," Turgeon said. "Shot selection has to be better. Passing has to be better, and we've got a veteran team, and they did that."
Maryland's players do have lots of freedom, and it was displayed Saturday. Robert Carter Jr. twice connected with Rasheed Sulaimon on football-esque long-court passes to set up transition scores, like this one:
The flip side to plays like that: Telegraphed passes can be intercepted, as was a Sulaimon bid for Carter early in the first half. ("I have to be better," Sulaimon would say.) But Sulaimon said Maryland, on the whole, was getting more comfortable systematically and figured that would limit the team's turnovers.
"We're just starting to get more comfortable in our offense, and we're trusting each other more," Sulaimon said. "I keep talking about the dynamic players that we have, but if could just continue to trust in each other and move the ball, we're going to get good shots, and we're going to get good looks every time down."
Carter said the key to Maryland's risk management was mental.
"You've just got to go out there and play relaxed. You can't be too tight. I feel like when you're tight, that's when you press about making turnovers, and that's when you actually make turnovers."
Time will tell to what extent Maryland's three-in-five-game run of limited giveaways turns into a trend or doesn't. But Maryland's played 24 games out of a regular season of 31. The Terps' schedule concludes in a month, and the only thing that ultimately matters is that everything is in order by the Big Ten Tournament at the start of March, then stays in order wherever Maryland travels for the NCAA's biggest dance. The Terps think they're getting there.
"We're just gelling with each other more," Sulaimon said. "We're starting to get more comfortable with the guys out there, and our system is starting to really get ingrained in us."