Terps Trio: Mark Turgeon's disconsolation, late-game situations, football's early signees

January 18, 2013

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.

Mark Turgeon’s team had just recorded a win over a ranked team on Wednesday night, and yet the coach seemed disconsolate. What was up?

Jeff Barker: It’s hard to know where to begin. The coach made the point -- emphatically -- that Turgeon teams are adept at winning close games. They historically execute plays at the end.

But this team? Not so much. At least not yet. Yes, Maryland beat N.C. State, 51-50. It was a big and dramatic win -- a confidence-builder for a team that needed one. It certainly jazzed up the fan base.

But it wasn’t exactly the finish that Turgeon scripted. He said Alex Len was to set a high screen for a shooter -- apparently Logan Aronhalt. The way it unfolded, Pe’Shon Howard forced up a shot that Len grabbed out of the air and put back into the basket.

Turgeon was no doubt thrilled for his team. But the play was also evidence that his players aren’t quite in command of what the coach is trying to execute. They’re either not always listening or simply not processing his edicts.

The game seemed to put Turgeon in the unusual position of being delighted and frustrated at the same time.

The coach said that Len -- who was tough down the stretch at keeping offensive rebounds alive -- looked a little lost when he was shifted to the 4 so that Shaquille Cleare could play center.

Turgeon said he was compelled to go to his veteran players at the game’s end because he still doesn’t quite trust his freshmen to execute plays in crunch time.

The coach’s biggest worry seems to be his team’s ball handling. Turgeon, a former point guard, can’t help but harp on this. If he obsesses on a single statistic, it’s probably assist-to-turnover ratio.

Last season, Maryland had 339 assists and 425 turnovers, a ratio of 0.8 that put the Terps in a four-way tie for last in the ACC. They’re better this year -- 1.1.

But against N.C. State, the Terps had more turnovers than assists (13 to 10). It was worse in the preceding game against Miami (four to 15).

Maryland has played Howard at the point, as well as Seth Allen. On Wednesday night, Turgeon tried Nick Faust.

The Terps need one guy to take over that role. Steve Blake, are you available?

Maryland has now been in three close games with a shot to either win or tie the game and have failed to execute the play Mark Turgeon called. Even though the Terps won Wednesday over No. 14 North Carolina State, is that a concern going forward?

Don Markus: It’s not just end-of-game situations. Turgeon said after the win over the Wolfpack that his team had not run a single play correctly coming out of timeouts and were lucky that Alex Len was in the right spot to put back Pe’Shon Howard’s baseline airball with under a second remaining.

Not that a lot of games typically come down to a final possession. But Maryland has now taken three bad shot in those situations -- Howard’s forced 3-pointer over a flying defender against Kentucky, Seth Allen’s blocked 3-pointer with a wide-open Len rolling to the basket against Florida State last week and now Howard’s shot this week.

It was interesting talking with some of the players after the win over the Wolfpack about that last possession.

Len said the play was supposed to be a high screen and a pass to senior Logan Aronhalt for what would have likely been a wide-open 3 since he was probably the player N.C. State was going to sacrifice in order to double-team Len.

Allen said it was supposed to be “some sort of lob to Alex."

Howard did not come into the press room, but on tape it looks like Allen picked up his dribble and gave the ball to Howard in something of a panic move. As badly as it would have looked if Howard’s shot was blocked too -- and it came close, which is why Len was so open underneath -- I’m not sure Aronhalt was a great option for two reasons.

One, the Terps just needed a two-point basket or even a two-shot foul to have a chance to win. Also, after a hot stretch earlier in the season, the team’s designated 3-point shooter has cooled off considerably in ACC play. I am not sure why Dez Wells was throwing the ball inbounds and was essentially out of the play.

Running end-of-game plays or even end-of-clock situations is usually more a crapshoot with college players than an art form. But the way the Terps are playing right now -- either trying to keep the score low or doing that by missing a lot of shots at their end and keeping the other team out of sync with great defense -- will lend itself to more of them, possibly Saturday at North Carolina.

Somehow Turgeon will have to get his team to figure out what the heck he is telling them during the previous timeout.

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