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January 5, 2014
Depth equals efficiency for Terps
As the clock wound down on the first half Saturday afternoon, Maryland's two leading scorers were planted firmly on the bench; Dez Wells in foul trouble and Jake Layman getting a much-needed breather.
Then the funniest thing happened. The Terps lead against Georgia Tech grew.
The Yellow Jackets had cut an early double-digit deficit to five, but Maryland's reserves were able to push it back to 14 over the half's final five minutes and the Terps cruised to a 2-0 start to conference play.
A month ago, Mark Turgeon was forced to run Wells and Layman ragged in an effort to stay in games against unspectacular competition. A month ago, the 17 points the two Terrapins stars combined for on Saturday would have been a death sentence. Saturday, it was a breath of fresh air.
"We're playing great," said Seth Allen, who along with Nick Faust helped put Georgia Tech away late in the first half. "We're just a whole new team, it feels like. Our energy level is up and we're playing great defense."
Not only are the Terps playing defense - they've held their last three opponents to sub-40 percent shooting - but they're also protecting the basketball and operating in an efficient and organized manner on the offensive end of the court. Those were perhaps the three main elements that deserved the lion's share of the blame for an uninspired 7-5 start.
"I just think the guys feel less pressure because they know there are really good players around them," Turgeon said after Sunday's practice.
One of those players is Allen, who has now been back for three games, all Maryland wins. Allen's health is improving and his foot was pain-free on Sunday. His minutes should continue to increase and with Turgeon's newfound center rotation, the widespread distribution of playing time should ideally result in a sharper Terrapin team, optimistically starting Monday night in Pittsburgh.
"Hopefully it will be big," said Turgeon, who lamented allowing Evan Smotrycz play 30 minutes against Tech, even though he was the only Terp to do so.
"I was thinking that way throughout the game. We had a comfortable lead, I felt good. I was subbing that way, knowing that we have a heck of a tough challenge tomorrow night in a place where they don't lose many games."
Another one of those players is Faust, whose play over the last three games has been a revelation. Faust has appeared to be finally acclimated to coming off the bench, and suddenly has the look of a dynamite role player. It's only been three games, but there is no overestimating how much he could help the Terps as a super sub should he be able to sustain anything near this level of play.
"You see a whole different Nick Faust," Turgeon said. "It's not even close. It's really clicked in for him. There's still an occasional no-look pass that he'll throw. You can take the kid out of Baltimore, but you can't take the Baltimore out of the kid. But he's really just under control."
The Terps turned it over only six times on Saturday and routinely pumped the ball inside. They got 15 points from their trio of centers, but most important, continuously got good looks from beyond the arc that allowed them to drain 10 threes.
"Under control and poised is a great way to play," said Charles Mitchell, who had six points and 11 boards against the Bees. "Starting inside out is always good. Once you establish a low post game, it opens up a lot of shots for our guards."
A Maryland offense that exhibits discipline and methodical play has a scary ceiling considering the firepower on this roster. We got a preview of it against Georgia Tech, but playing Pitt, who ranks 10th in the nation in scoring defense and 11th in defensive efficiency, is a different animal. Especially in the Petersen Events Center.
"It's hard [for the defense], because they have to pick their poison," Allen said. "Teams like Pitt, they're known for doubling the bigs. So our idea is that if they're going to double, we want to make them pay."
Even at 13-1, Pitt is no Ohio State. But they play like them, and the environment will be similar to the early December disaster in Columbus. Just over a month later, the Terps post-Christmas reincarnation will get a huge test.
"We won't roll over like we did [at Ohio State]," Turgeon claimed. "I know we'll continue to compete because of where we are as a team."
Let's see how far they've come.