I have girded myself for many news stories about a "feisty" or "scrappy" performance in a losing effort for the basketball team. It would be easy to trot out those cliches after the Terps loss to a mediocre Illinois squad last night. Certainly the effort was good for most of the game which you would expect for a primetime game on ESPN (one of only three Maryland games on the prime ESPN channel currently scheduled this season). It had been four days since their last game and the tempo was a fairly pedestrian 61.0 so fatigue should not have been much of an excuse like it may have been in the Iona debacle. Maryland's free throw percentage was actually better in the 2nd half (70%) then it was in the 1st half (53.3%) which would not support the fatigue excuse either. Still there is something off with this team and their 2nd half play. In only notching 27 points the Terps have now scored less than 30 points in the second half of three out of six games. Not surprising that accounts for all three of their losses this year. Managing the stamina of the roster will be a challenge all season for Mark Turgeon but it didn't play much of a role in this loss. To the contrary Turgeon's substitutions may have contributed to Illinois pulling away for the win. With about 17 minutes left in the game Turgeon put Sean Mosley (who had an awful game) and Terrell Stoglin on the bench and put out a squad of Nick Faust, Mychal Parker, Ashton Pankey and two walk-ons. Not surprisingly by the time he put Mosley and Stoglin back in three minutes later Illinois had gained a lead they would not relinquish. I'm not sure what his thought process was with that lineup but it was a blunder by Turgeon that contributed to Maryland losing the game. Turgeon has had some pointed and public criticisms of his players the last few weeks and given his instinct for brutal truth he also deserves the spotlight to be put on some of his failures as well. Given that he is from the Roy Williams coaching school I doubt we'll see much of that from him. I thought his decision not to test the Illinois backcourt with some press late in the game was a mistake as well. They only did it once and it forced the Illini into an immediate timeout. Inexplicably Turgeon never tried it again until the game was already over. With his system you had better be damn good in the half court because they won't cause turnovers and therefore won't get any easy points as a result.
There has been some debate about Terrell Stoglin being a "ball hog" or something to that effect. He did take an amazing 42.5% of the shots when he was in the game, Faust being second with 28.3%, but he was very efficient at 114.0 points per 100 possessions. Given that heavy usage his turnover % was an excellent 15.7 and his effective field goal percentage of 58.8% was very good as well. About the only thing he did poorly was shoot free throws. It is obvious he isn't much of a defensive player so I won't fault him for not getting back on defense like Turgeon did in his beginning to be habitual post game player flogging.
Stoglin has to get more help from his backcourt teammates. Mosley had an awful game scoring only five points and turning the ball over at a 40% rate on his possessions. Turgeon is loath to criticize Mosley, as was Gary Williams, because he is a good kid and a hard worker. This game demonstrated that with Mosley you get great hustle plays mixed in with boneheaded plays that no senior should make. The hope that he will be a scoring factor for Maryland went out the window last season. He doesn't have the skills or mental makeup to be a scorer at the collegiate level. What should be expected is not to foul a three point shooter in the act, not commit dumb offensive fouls or turn the ball over at critical moments late in the game. Mosley did all three. Nick Faust struggled even worse than Mosley but he is a freshman who is playing out of position. It is painfully obvious that Faust has no ability to be a serviceable point guard. Until Pe'Shon Howard returns from injury Maryland will have to muddle through with what they have and Faust will have to try to take better shots and start making some free throws. His shooting percentages are all shockingly bad no matter from where on the floor. He is often too careless with possessions and has done little to get the ball to places on the court that will open up the offense.
James Padgett had a career night scoring with 16 points but his rebounding and defense need to improve, how he failed to grab one defensive rebound in 28 minutes is beyond me. Ashton Pankey also had a dreadful night rebounding. He let Illinois get TWO offensive rebounds off a missed free throw and failed to secure an easy rebound off a miss by Illinois with just 53 seconds remaining clinging to a 5 point lead. It is little wonder he is in Turgeon's dog house. He can be an excellent rebounder when his head is in the game but too often he pouts and has mental lapses.
The game against Notre Dame this weekend in the BB&T will be a directional game for the Terps. It is a game they have an excellent chance of winning given the Irish's poor play this season and loss of preseason All-Big East forward Tim Abromaitis. For scoring Notre Dame relies heavily on three point shooting and getting to the foul line. Defensively they are soft so and lack a significant inside presence so Maryland should be able to score. It will be a good test to see if this group can post a respectable ACC season or if they are going to struggle. If Maryland cannot beat Notre Dame on a neutral court I think they will struggle with middle of the pack ACC squads like Virginia Tech, Clemson, Miami and N.C. State.