Nick Faust was contemplative as he spoke to the media following Maryland's 71-38 win over Monmouth Wednesday night.
Faust's comments almost had the tenor of a losing effort though the Terrapins (9-1) won for a ninth straight time, held an opponent to the lowest score of the season and won by 33 points.
"It was on us, we know we can play better," said the sophomore guard. "We're going to take that game and try to get better in practice."
Ah, yes, practice. The Terrapins have been doing five push-ups for any turnover they make in practice, and Maryland miscues had slowed the last couple of games. Not Wednesday night before a Comcast Center crowd of 9,265, though, Maryland in a holiday giving mood. The Terps turned it over a season-high 23 times, 14 in a frustrating first half.
"It was lack of concentration, not playing with poise," said Faust, who led all scorers with 16 points, had four rebounds, three assists, two steals and yes, four turnovers. "We definitely have to work on that and get better. These games make you better but we're definitely looking for bigger challenges, bigger named schools."
Now in exam week, the Terrapins have had truncated practices and irregular hours this week if you're looking for excuse-mode. Seth Allen, who had seven turnovers himself, and Alex Len who went the other way with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots, both had four hours of study hall for a class just prior to the game.
"I'm letting a lot of these young guys play through a lot of mistakes," said Mark Turgeon who saw the fewest points ever scored against a Terrapin team of his. "But I threw them in the fire for a reason. We're playing Monmouth, not to take anything away from Monmouth, but our guys should play better against Monmouth than they played."
The Hawks (5-6) of the Northeast Conference have now lost three straight games and that will happen when you shoot 20.6 percent (14-of-68) from the field. That icy-cold percentage eclipsed the previous worst shooting against Maryland this season, set by George Mason (.310). Maryland has held seven straight foes below 40 percent shooting.
But Terrapin turnovers and the Hawks ability to claw some rebounds in the first half kept the game closer than it should have been. Coming in, Monmouth was being out-rebounded by 10.6 boards per game while the Terrapins were second in the nation with a plus-15.2 margin. Maryland won the glass, 44-29.
"That's always a big thing for us," said Len. "But we didn't get the ball inside and had too many turnovers. After halftime we really focused on bringing down the number of turnovers."
After a fast start in the game, Maryland's big men disappeared for much of the rest of the half, so much so that Turgeon started former walk-on John Auslander in the second half alongside Len.
"Dez Wells was the only one playing," said Turgeon. "At halftime they asked me who was starting and I said, 'Well, Dez.' After that I had no idea."
Wells joined Faust and Len in double figures with 10 points to go with five rebounds and just two turnovers. James Padgett finished with nine points and six rebounds, hitting all three of his shots from the field and the line. Turgeon didn't like what he saw from the freshmen beef brigade of Shaquille Cleare (two points, five rebounds) and Charles Mitchell (zero points and three rebounds).
In fact, Maryland's freshmen combined for nine points, five rebounds and eight turnovers.
"Nothing is given," said Wells. "You have to come out and be ready to play regardless of who you're playing. You have to respect your opponent and not look down at the level of talent. Great teams step on your throat when they have the chance to, and we didn't do that tonight."
Behind Faust, Wells and Len, the Terrapins did come out strong in the second half, though. "When we came out I told the guys that there's really nothing to say, that we just have to come out and do it," added Wells. "'We knew what we needed to do.'"
The Terrapins tightened up their defense, forcing Monmouth to miss six of the Hawks' first seven shots. Maryland had an 8-2 run, pushing the lead to 39-23 at 16:12, when Len got a stickback after Jake Layman kept a Logan Aronhalt miss alive on the boards, a sign that perhaps Maryland was starting to flex a little muscle.
Over the first 10:30 of the second half, Maryland's run reached 18-6. Allen, who had a rugged first half, scooped up a loose ball and dunked on the break, part of a 8-0 edge in fastbreak points in the final 20 minutes.
"Our mindset was to do what Coach said, he was really pissed at halftime," said Faust. "We wanted to execute and do what he told us to do. It was on us."
Faust went coast-to-coast for a lay-in and when Wells got a spectacular dunk off a Faust lob it was 48-27 with 9:27 left. The Hawks could manage just 16.7 percent (5-of-30) shooting in the second half as Maryland took control.
And when Monmouth got looks inside, Len & Co. erased many of them with nine blocked shots, five in the second half. Monmouth's 38 points was a season low against Maryland, eclipsing the 45 scored by Morehead State in the home opener.
Maryland did a much better job of converting Monmouth missed shots and turnovers into points in the second half, the Terp guards getting out quickly on the break and pressuring the Hawks to keep up. They couldn't.
The Terrapins put together a 40-17 blitz in the final 20 minutes.
The Terps ran off 11 straight points to push the lead to 30 late. When Layman, who didn't play in the first half because he didn't keep up with his academics this week (according to Turgeon), drained a three-pointer off the secondary break with 4:13 remaining, the lead was 59-29.
The lead reached 33 points at 66-33 with two minutes left when Aronhalt hit a corner three, and then again when Connor Lipinski hit a corner three with 22 seconds left to put the final margin on the board.
"We defended well; we held them to 20 percent shooting," said Turgeon. "We got outplayed in the first half. They out-hustled us, and they played harder than we did. It was probably one of the worst halves one of my teams has played. I was really disappointed in our team. We have worked really hard on turnovers but I was really disappointed in it today. It was more mental than anything. They just weren't mentally into the game."
Faust and Wells were taking it hard in the postgame.
"I have to step up and be more vocal when things aren't going as good," said Wells. "I can't just talk to guys when things are going great. That's not what a good leader does. I'll get better the next couple of practices and games."
And likely do a lot of push-up with his teammates.
"We just weren't ready but now we get a lot of time to practice," said Turgeon. "I'm really looking forward to it."
Aronhalt finished with five points and four rebounds, and Layman had the one three-pointer to go with two boards in 13 minutes, all in the second half. Pe'Shon Howard had three points, three rebounds and seven assists but also three turnovers on plays that particularly irked Turgeon where he made bad reads on plays that Turgeon felt should be bread-and-butter for the Terrapins.
The only butter Wednesday was on Terrapin fingertips.
"We weren't strong with the ball," said Len. "After Coach talked to us at halftime, we took his advice and tried to make changes. I feel we were much stronger in the second half."
Fouled with just 2.6 seconds left in the first half, Howard had a chance to help the Terps put some distance between themselves and the pesky Hawks but the junior guard clanked two of the three shots, and Maryland led just 31-21 at the break.
The modest margin despite Maryland hitting 61.9 percent (13-of-21) from the field and holding Monmouth to 23.7 percent (9-of-38) marksmanship, was particularly frustrating for a team that had seemed to be finding it's way more effectively the last few games.
The culprit this night was 14 turnovers by the Terps, coming in a variety of flavors - charges on Faust and Allen, mishandles by the bigs, injudicious passes to the posts, you name it - Maryland did it. Faust and Allen each had four turnovers, Allen getting his in just five minutes. Allen finished with seven turnovers to go with four points and three assists in 15 foul-plagued minutes.
"Seth Allen had two of his best practices of the year (this week)," lamented Turgeon. "Go figure. I'm not worried about Seth and I'm not worried about turnovers. I am worried about getting into our offense. That's what we have to work on."
The Hawks, coached by former North Carolina point guard King Rice, attacked Allen whenever he was at the point. They showed full-court pressure, switching zones and a Dean Smith trademark, the jump-switch, to keep the freshman point guard off balance.
The Hawks could never string together enough baskets to really challenge the Terrapins, though. Monmouth missed nine straight shots after a run had got them back in the game. When Aronhalt missed a corner three, Faust swooped between two Hawks to grab the rebound and stick it back in for a remarkable three-point play. After another Monmouth miss, Auslander scored inside from a Howard baseline drive and it was 25-16 with 3:23 before the half.
Dion Nesmith scored on the break off a Maryland turnover, a recurring first half theme, to end a Hawks' scoreless stretch of nearly five minutes. Cleare scored inside to make it 27-18 at 1:37.
A Faust three made it 30-20, Maryland's biggest lead of the half, with 57 seconds left.
After hitting eight of their first nine shots, the Terps cooled off considerably. They saw their nine point lead dwindle to three as they scored just four points over a span of seven minutes and 23 seconds.
One of those buckets, a Faust three, made it 20-14, but Stephen Spinella got a lob dunk to bring the Hawks back within four. The Terrapins had a miserable stretch of seven turnovers in nine possessions but Monmouth couldn't creep any closer
The Terrapins had wasted little time putting their height advantage to work. Len hit a hook on the first possession and Padgett scored inside the next time down. Faust drove hard to the hole and pulled up, lobbing to Len for an easy dunk and a 6-0 lead.
Spinella hit a 10-footer for Monmouth but then Padgett got a three-point play and Howard scored in transition to make it 11-2 at 16:41. The Hawks misfired on nine of their first 12 shots before finding the range and settling in a bit. They also did a better job of closing off the paint.
The Terrapins missed five straight shots, mostly from the perimeter, and when Steele hit a three and then a two-pointer at 11:10, Monmouth had closed to 15-12.
Monmouth's leading scorer, 6-6 Andrew Nicholas was heckled into an 0-9 shooting night, finishing with just two points, 12.6 below his average. Khalil Brown had 10 points to lead the Hawks, seven in the second half.
Maryland is in a full exam break now, though practices will continue as available. The next game is Dec. 21 against Stony Brook at 8 p.m.
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