COLLEGE PARK, Md. — There are a lot of times when a 5:11 assist to turnover ratio and 15/25 performance at the free throw line would be cause for panic at the University of Maryland.
The 2011-12 version of the Terrapins (3-3) however showed enough positive signs in their 71-62 loss to the University of Illinois Fighting Illini (7-0) Tuesday night at Comcast Center that even their coach wasn’t focusing on the troubles after the game.
“I thought we did a lot of great things tonight” head coach Mark Turgeon said after the Big Ten/ACC Challenge defeat. “Our improvement since Puerto Rico is tremendous.”
Turgeon was referring to his frustration with a team that lost two of three games in San Juan just more than a week earlier in the 5-hour Energy Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament. Following the team’s finale at the event (a brutal 89-63 at the hands of Iona), Turgeon had expressed frustration about his team’s unwillingness to play disciplined basketball.
Turgeon still voiced concerns after his team saw a halftime advantage disappear at the hands of the Illini, but his comments were drastically different than the frustration shown after being blown out by the Gaels.
“To me, the players have to care more than they are now. I think there is immaturity and we need confidence and the willingness to be good. It’s hard to be good. It’s easy to not be good.”
The Terps played 20 minutes of their best basketball in the first half, establishing a 35-31 advantage at the break. The Terps worked the ball inside to C James Padgett for six early points and showed an ability to move the ball in a half court offense unlike they have regularly shown in the early part of the season. “We executed better than we’ve executed all year” Turgeon said of the first half. For their effort, the Terps made 12 of 23 field goal attempts (52.2%) and earned 15 free throw attempts (they made only eight).
That execution seemed to disappear after the intermission, thanks in part to adjustments made by Illinois head coach Bruce Weber and a (more) veteran team. The Illini ultimately forced the Terps into bad shots (Maryland made just nine of 27 field goal attempts) and only ten free attempts. These problems allowed the Illini to outscore the Terps 40-27 after half en route to victory.
Although Turgeon dismissed the possibility of fatigue in the second half, some of the team’s struggles can fairly be attributed to the fact that they are still playing with just seven healthy scholarship players. Five Terps again played more than 25 minutes in the loss, three (Guards Nick Faust, Terrell Stoglin and Sean Mosley) played more than 30.
For as much as the lack of depth is a concern, the lack of experience the team has is equally troubling. With would-be PG Pe’Shon Howard sidelined with a broken foot, the Terps have turned to Faust (City College) to run the point. The freshman had no previous point guard experience before the season, and has struggled at times to adjust to defensive looks. Turgeon said Stoglin also ran the point at times in the second half when Faust showed signs of fatigue. Unfortunately for Maryland, Stoglin appeared just as fatigued in the second half and the bad shots appeared contagious.
Maryland wanted to work the ball in to Padgett early. “I told the team we were going to throw the ball to James to start the game and we were going to go right after (Illinois’) big guy (Meyers Leonard)” Turgeon said. “I thought that was big.”
And as much as the early play from Padgett was positive, Turgeon also noted that more production was necessary.
“James made his first two free throws and made some plays, but then (he) didn’t keep doing it. You’ve got to do it for 40 minutes. I’m proud of James, but I expect a lot out of James. James can give us more. He’s got to defensive rebound. If you do it on one end, you’ve got to be able to do it on the other.”
There were other positive signs in the defeat, including some solid minutes in the first half for guard Mike Parker and good team defense for stretches.
But it wasn’t hard to see why Maryland couldn’t maintain their positive play for 40 minutes and come away with a victory.
This team still has much to improve on to be at all competitive in their first season under Turgeon, and a date with Notre Dame in the BB&T Classic Sunday at Verizon Center won’t provide much relief.
After that test, the schedule opens up a bit and the team will be only a few games away from the end of big man Alex Len’s suspension.
Those factors and more experience should help a lot.
This team isn’t going to be very good this season, but perhaps they won’t be quite as bad as some feared.
Hear from Turgeon, Padgett and Stoglin following the game in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net.