Welcome back to Morning Shootaround, a regular feature this season the day after Maryland basketball games. While we can’t bring you into the Terps’ locker room after games – reporters haven’t been allowed in there since the last couple of years under Gary Williams – we will recap what was said in the press conference afterward by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his players. We will give some of our own insight into what transpired on the court during the previous day’s game and what the Terps will be working on at practice looking ahead to their next game.
Have you recovered yet? Sorry for the late post, but I kept waiting all night for the Maryland students to show up at the bonfire school officials set up to save Route 1 from a repeat of three years ago, the last time the Terps beat Duke.
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I have to admit, unlike my Sun colleague Jeff Barker, I didn’t see this one coming. It’s not that I didn’t believe the Terps were capable of beating Duke. I thought Maryland had a better chance last month at Cameron Indoor Stadium than in College Park.
Not to be too cynical, but what I kept thinking as I watched Mark Turgeon’s biggest win at Maryland unfold was this: where has this been the past month? It was not some perfectly executed clinic given a season-high 26 turnovers, including a career-tying eight by the guy who essentially won the game, freshman Seth Allen. But the Terps showed the kind of heart that has been missing for a long time.
The victory helped revive the interests of the Maryland fans who had fallen off Turgeon’s happy little bandwagon after the loss to Virginia last Sunday, to keep the next four weeks relevant as long as the Terps don’t slip against teams they should beat -- even on the road. And it will take some pressure off Turgeon, even going into next season, about getting that first signature win.
“I told them before the game, ‘We don’t have to be extraordinary, we just have to play to our level,’” Turgeon said. “And we weren’t extraordinary all the time. But we played to our level and we continued to compete. For our young team, it’s one thing to play Duke close, it’s another thing to beat ‘em.”
That “four-letter” word
Turgeon was asked after the game whether the win puts the Terps back into NCAA tournament picture.
“I’m not going to mention the four-letter word because we’re so far from it,’ Turgeon said. “We have four of our last six on the road. If we can be committed to being good teammates, being a good team, that’s all I want. ... None of that other stuff matters. ... We’re going to enjoy tonight. We have a Boston College team Tuesday that ‘s pretty good and we’re going to have to play better against them than we did at home.”
Depending on whose in-season bracket you’ve been following, Turgeon might be right. Or the Terps, given the fact that they now can claim something few have done (a victory over a top-two team) might have put themselves back on the bubble.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had listed Maryland among the first four teams looking in from the outside, but said in an interview that North Carolina and Kentucky, given their 0-4 records against Top 25 teams and the Wildcats losing freshman center Nerlens Noel for the season, were in trouble.
Aside from the road games at Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest that would be disastrous to lose, Maryland’s March 6 home game against the Tar Heels as well as its regular-season finale at Virginia on March 10 loom large.
One thing that Saturday night’s win guarantees for the Terps: the NIT. That might be considered a bit heartless, but whatever happens from here on out, barring a complete meltdown by Maryland, Turgeon can say with tangible proof that his program is on track.
Ever since he put up 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots in the season opener against Noel and then-No. 3 Kentucky, we’ve been waiting for a similar performance from Len. It came Saturday night.
While Len’s numbers weren’t quite that good against Duke – 19 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots – he finally looked again like the player who many projected early this season to be a lottery pick and possibly the No. 1 player taken.
With Noel’s status now clouded by his impending ACL surgery, Len’s beatdown on Duke’s Mason Plumlee (4 points, 3 rebounds, 0 blocks) certainly did a lot to help the 7-footer’s draft status. A number of scouts, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas of the Cleveland Cavaliers, were in attendance.
“He was tremendous all night,” Turgeon said of Len. “He was great on post defense, he was great on protecting the rim, he was great on ball-screen defense. He was dominating the game. I’ve been on Alex pretty hard and I’m going to stay on him down the stretch because for us to have a chance, he’s going to have to play at that level.