December 5, 2013

Terps notebook: Faust, 'D', Layman, more

Coming off four straight wins, Maryland headed to Columbus on Wednesday eager to be tested against a top-10 opponent on the road. They knew they had drawn the short straw having to play at Ohio State, and head coach Mark Turgeon conceded earlier in the week that he was "pissed" that his team was essentially being fed to the wolves in their last season in the ACC.

"It should give us a good picture as to where we're at as a basketball team," Charles Mitchell said on Tuesday.

The Terps didn't play much like a group that had something to prove last night at the Value City Arena. They were outplayed, outcoached and outclassed against an elite opponent. They hung around in the early going, but it was pretty evident from the start that they had run into a buzz saw, and it then became very evident in the second half as the Buckeye lead swelled to 25.

But was it really that much of a surprise? Ohio State was 35-4 at home the last two seasons, with all four losses coming to highly ranked opponents. Now ranked No. 1 in the nation in defensive efficiency, the Buckeyes are built to stop what the Terps do best - which is score - and they feast on turnover prone teams. While they're not going to blow you away offensively, Ohio State has the talent to put points on the board against poor defensive efforts like the one the Terps turned in last night.

It was a bad matchup in an impossible environment. While it undoubtedly revealed that the progress Maryland made in the past few weeks was less considerable than Turgeon had hoped, it also doesn't mean that the sky is falling.

Let's take a look at some key takeaways from last night's ugly loss:

Faust shaky again

Last night may have been the worst performance in a season full of them for junior guard Nick Faust. He shot 2 of 9 from the field and 1 of 7 from downtown, and took all of about 30 seconds to make his first mistake as his charging violation foiled what should have been an easy fast break bucket in the game's opening minute.

On the other side of the ball, where Faust is supposed to make his hay, he lost track of LaQuinton Ross at least twice early and then failed to get out enough on the forward, who hit a pair treys that helped to open up the early Buckeye lead. Evaluating defensive performance is a subjective endeavor, but it sure seems that Faust's value on that end of the floor has been overstated, at least at this point in the season.

For the year, the junior is now shooting 33 percent from the field and an abysmal 18.8 percent from three-point range, which at four attempts per night is impacting the efficiency of the Terps' offense. His percentages are down across the board from his two previous seasons, so while his performance should begin to progress closer to his career numbers, it will be important for Turgeon to balance the importance of that with a sense of urgency to win now.

Some believe that Turgeon is overly loyal to Faust, who was the first prized recruit he lured to College Park. However, Turgeon benched Faust to start the second half and has been siphoning off his minutes - from 32 per night in Maryland's first four games to just over 27 in their last four. Either way, Faust has been only one of many problems through eight games for the Terps.

Defensive issues crop up

They may not have an offensive star, but in some ways that has made the Buckeyes tougher to defend this season. They now have six players averaging between nine and 11.4 points per game. It is difficult to take away their biggest threats when you can't decipher who it is going to be on a given night.

"It is much harder," Turgeon said Tuesday. "You're going to guard the system. You're not going to guard a player. We know there are certain guys that can shoot. We know guys that are drivers. It's more about guarding the system and playing our defense the way we've been coached to play it."

The first 27 points of the game for the Buckeyes came either via three pointers or three-point plays. During that stretch, they weren't doing anything fancy, just employing ball movement, handoffs and screens to get shooters open. Faust wasn't the only culprit, as Dez Wells left a couple of Buckeyes open on plays where he was lured away from his man by penetration or screens.

"Hopefully for us, we're making them take jump shots over hands and they're missing them, and then limiting to one shot," Turgeon said. "That is how you have to play them to beat them. If they're hitting jump shots over hands, they're going to pretty tough to beat."

Turgeon said it. The Buckeyes would have been tough to beat if they're hitting shots over the Terps' outstretched hands. As Maryland found out last night, they are impossible to beat if there isn't any hand in their vicinity.

Layman locked down

While the Terps didn't know whom to defend, Ohio State seemed to have a pretty good idea on Wednesday night. Thad Matta stuck Lenzelle Smith on Jake Layman for a large chunk of the game, and the senior guard was in the shorts of Maryland's leading scorer all night.

Layman had only two points on 1 of 9 shooting and missed all five of his attempts from beyond the arc. The sophomore was coming off his best game as a Terp. On Friday night, Layman had a career high 27 against visiting Morgan State and drained 7 of 10 triples.

"He is shooting the ball better. He is playing defense better, handling it better, passing it better," Turgeon said about Layman earlier this week. "I could go on and on. His approach to the game is better, he is communicating more." Because of that improvement, the Terps are now relying on Layman's contributions. Going forward, the lanky sophomore must invent ways to get his on nights like Wednesday.

Frenetic play continues

The Terps deserve some slack playing against the pressure-based system of Ohio State. They've struggled turning the ball over all year and a matchup against Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott certainly wasn't going to be much of a remedy.

To Maryland's credit, they seemed to get it figured out in the second half when Turgeon moved Wells off the ball in favor of Varun Ram and Roddy Peters, who played 17 and 18 minutes respectfully. Wells scored 17 of his 19 after halftime and the Terps only gave it away four times. Unfortunately, the damage was done as the Buckeyes had piled up 18 points off 10 turnovers in the opening frame.

There are well-documented personnel issues at play here, but the most distressing issue for the Terps is what happens when they're under fire. Outside of Evan Smotrycz, who is unanimously lauded for his intelligence by coaches and players alike, the Terps play at a frenetic pace and intelligence level that compounds problems when things goes sideways.

"Coach relies on me to be a cerebral player and be a calming influence on the court," said Smotrycz, who was solid again despite not starting the second half. "I'm just trying to focus on doing my job and not worry about what everyone else is doing."

At this point, it has yet to become infectious.

The return of Seth Allen next month will help, but it's not as if the sophomore guard is a reincarnation of Juan Dixon. The Terps have to get under control on the offensive end. They currently rank 258th in the nation in turnover percentage, as they give it away on 20.2 percent of their possessions. The biggest offenders are Wells (who turns it over 21.0 percent of the time he touches it), Faust (20.4 percent) and Peters (38.4 percent), all of whom rank among the worst in the ACC with Peters pulling up the rear in dead last.

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