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A possible turning point for Maryland

December 13, 2013 Columns No Comments

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Maybe this can be a turning point for Maryland.  It might seem like a far-fetched notion given that it’s December and it came after a win against a team that was 3-6 coming into the evening.  But head coach Mark Turgeon didn’t want to understate how important the win is by itself and in light of how the Terrapins’ season has been going.

“I don’t want to understate this: that was a really big win for us,” said Turgeon after the Terrapins’ 88-80 win at Boston College on Thursday night.

Maryland has been through plenty of adversity thus far.  They have had to play without starting point guard Seth Allen, which has forced lineup shuffling.  They haven’t developed as much depth as Turgeon would like to have, especially for running.  They have also had some tough losses to deal with, including the last game before Thursday night, a tough loss to George Washington after seemingly wearing the Colonials down in the final minutes to rally.

In between it all, they have shown their potential in winning the Paradise Jam, their first in-season tournament championship since 2006.  While they didn’t exactly beat three NCAA Tournament teams, they did beat a good Northern Iowa team to reach the final and took home the title with a win over Providence.  This is a team with good talent and a good coach.

To a degree, the Terrapins’ 6-4 record is reflective of growing pains.  Last year, the team was very young, with the kind of youth Turgeon said he couldn’t remember having to rely on.  They’re not exactly an old team this season, with just one senior in little-used John Auslander and three juniors who play significant minutes, but they’re not entirely inexperienced.  The injury to Allen means freshman Roddy Peters has to play more and have a bigger role now than they would probably like at this point, and freshmen will make mistakes, especially at the point.

Allen fractured his left foot in practice in late October, and is expected to be out at least another month.  That has meant having to start Peters, who would probably be better served backing Allen up to grow at a pace, or having Dez Wells play the point and bringing Peters off the bench.  But the latter means Wells has to do more than just score, and he has to get others involved more than when he plays off the ball.

On Thursday, Wells certainly scored, carrying the team in the second half en route to a career-high 33 points.  He was 12-18 from the field and scored 22 of those points after intermission, when the Terrapins out-scored BC 26-8 in points in the paint.  No Eagle could stop him from getting to the basket, though several tried, and one of the team leaders certainly looked like it on the night.

“He just told me to be who I am,” Wells said of Turgeon.

“Dez really cares,” said Turgeon.  “What we’re going through has been really hard, and so for him to have a night like this, I’m really happy for him, because he takes losing harder than the rest of them.”

Wells is impressed with Peters but knows what he has to go through.  He knows there will be failure as well as success, and he’s trying to help Peters through that at an accelerated pace.  Peters had a nice night on Thursday with 14 points on 5-8 shooting to go with three assists against three turnovers.  It’s another step in his growth.

“He’s getting comfortable, he’s getting his confidence up, and that’s what we need from him,” said Wells.  “He’s going to be lights out once he finally really gets it and starts to think the game a little more on the college level.  He’s a great competitor and a great talent.”

Maybe Thursday night is where Peters moves into the starting lineup permanently, at least until Allen comes back.  Turgeon has gone back and forth between starting him and bringing him off the bench, starting him three times but not once in consecutive games.  Thursday night was his first start in six games.  With the way Wells played by being able to play off the ball more, there’s a compelling case to be made for starting Peters more.

Maryland led from the beginning on Thursday night, but fell behind in the second half as Boston College finally caught them after coming up short with a few rallies.  But the Terrapins didn’t let losing a game-long lead become a psychological blow.  Instead, they battled right back and played more like a veteran team.  They started out the night shooting the lights out, especially from long range, but cooled off, and had to go inside, which they did.

For Maryland, managing through the early part of ACC play next month will be key.  The Terrapins have already lucked out in that they have to play Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse only once, although the former two will be away from home.  But they finish the regular season with four of five at home, so that will be a chance to finish strong heading into the ACC Tournament.

There are still four non-conference games left, all at home and none of them likely to mean much for the Terrapins’ NCAA Tournament hopes.  They host Boston University along the way, and while the Terriers are Patriot League favorites a win over them won’t impress the NCAA Tournament committee much.  The good thing is the Terrapins don’t have a bad loss thus far.  Turgeon said they know they have to be good in the ACC because of the non-conference play, and that includes winning a game or two on the road.  They did that just twice last year.

Maryland started off this year’s ACC slate with a road win, one that came at a good time.  Maybe it’s a sign that this team is indeed growing.  Maybe it could be a turning point for this team given the time at which they got it.

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