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January 11, 2014

Terps hope layoff will help

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - After the thumping in Pittsburgh, a week of critique-filled two-a-day practices was not how the Terrapin players envisioned spending the middle chunk of their winter break. But at 10-6, maybe it's exactly what they needed entering the second half of their schedule.

The Maryland players met as a team after losing by 20 to the Panthers five days ago; the disappointment palpable after their promising three-game win streak ended in disaster at the Petersen Events Center. There's been plenty of talk about this team doing great things in its last season in the ACC. On the court, there has been little action.

"It was our first loss [in the ACC]," Dez Wells said on Saturday, hours before the team headed south to take on Florida State Sunday night.

"We took that loss very seriously. Everybody was very mad about the game, about how we played. We tried our best to let it go afterwards. We dwelled on it the whole way back and we let it go right afterwards."

A month after suffering a similar fate at Ohio State, it would appear the Terps are stuck in the mud; unable to sustain the momentum needed to propel them towards the type of season they imagined for themselves in early November. But Mark Turgeon, enthused by five days of practice, sees it a little bit differently.

"I believe in my guys," he said. "I won't ever not believe in them. I feel better today than I did after the game."

"I don't necessarily like the long [winter] break - all the way to the 27th when we come back to school - but you can be like a pro team almost, and just practice and work on getting better. The results might not happen right away, but I think in time because of all this practice time and guys working on their games, we're going to become a better team."

The Terps watched the Pittsburgh film when they returned to College Park. With six days before their next game and minimal academic obligations, they practiced twice a day, enabling many of Turgeon's players to get back to the basics prior to preparing for the 10-4 Seminoles.

Some worked on their ball handling while others shot free throws. Some fine-tuned their defense. Most important, however, was the theory that the monotonous grind would help put their performance in Pittsburgh in the rear view mirror. So did it work?

"I think it was beneficial," said Seth Allen, who said his left foot feels better every day. "You know what you did wrong and you can improve on it. Coach has really been getting on us in practice because he wants us to be great."

"Everybody took the week off to get better," Turgeon said. "Individually, I think guys have really tried to get better during these six days too. Whether they'll play that way, we'll see. It takes time."

Turgeon hopes it doesn't take too long to show up on the court with the dangerous Noles looming on Sunday. The Terps haven't fared well against defensive-minded squads and Florida State is exactly that. The Noles rank fourth in the nation in defensive efficiency, 10th in blocks, 28th in scoring defense and fifth in field goal percentage defense.

A typical Leonard Hamilton team, Florida State is long and protects the rim, better than anyone in the country according to Turgeon. They take care of the ball, rebound and make you work for every bucket on the offensive end.

"They're really long and they swarm the ball," Allen said. "When you penetrate, you have to make plays for other people. They have a lot of seven footers."

Turgeon wouldn't divulge his game plan, but it sounds like the Terps intend on going right at the Seminoles on offense. Penetration will be critical, but the decision-making that follows - when rangy defenders surround the Terps' guards -- is more likely to dictate the outcome.

Maryland is sure to be the underdog on Sunday night, making a win in Tallahassee a huge step toward ACC relevance. If they fall short, they can take solace in a quicker turnaround.

"When we lose I'm thinking about the next game," said Wells. "For my body, it's good we had another break. Mentally, I want to get to the next game."


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