Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
On Saturday, Maryland squeaked out a six point over Florida Atlantic at the Comcast Center. What on a paper might seem like a disappointing result for the Terrapins, may actually be a sign that this team is progressing; you’ve just got to look at it a little closer. Three of the biggest problems Maryland has had all season have been low post play, turnovers, and free throws, and on Saturday these weren’t problems but instead positives for the team that helped them maintain the lead and win the game.
As Michael Willis has pointed out in his assessments of the Terps, they are primarily a jump shooting team. When players get tired, the ability to get lift on jump shots in usually the first part of their game to suffer. Maryland played Thursday night in Boston, and then Saturday afternoon in Maryland. The team only had one full day of rest between games, and coach Turgeon mentioned post game how the team didn’t practice in that one day off. It was clear that the team was still tired from their Thursday night game, as shots from Nick Faust and Evan Smotrycz were falling short and Dez Wells was unable to get up to the rim as much as we have seen in recent games. With jump shots not falling, Maryland had to find new ways to win and they did so.
Low post play has been an issue for Maryland all season. Shaq Cleare has been struggling all season to play positively and stay out of foul trouble. He has been plagued by turnovers and sluggish play that have left many questioning if he should still be starting. Charles Mitchell continued his strong rebounding from last season, but his free throwing shooting has continued to be a major detriment to otherwise solid performances. Along with his inability to make free throws, Mitchell has struggled with recognizing double teams and trusting his teammates. On Saturday, both players were not only more comfortable, but they were more patient in the post and trusted their teammates to get them the ball. Cleare and Mitchell turned in great games, each scoring 10 points and shooting a combined 9/13 from the field. They also had a combined 11 rebounds; Cleare had two blocks, and they only committed a combined three fouls. The game appears to be slowing down for both players as they haven’t been rushing themselves in the post as much.
Sure, the argument can be made that Maryland was playing against a weak team and these are types of games that Maryland should be seeing more often from their post players. However, both Cleare and Mitchell have been struggling with their confidence lately and needed to have a good game soon to get back on track. Players need to build up their confidence and that is what these December cupcake games help them with. It cannot be understated how important it was for Cleare and Mitchell to start off the cupcake slate with strong games to help them mentally. Maryland will need both of them to be playing at this level for the Terrapins to have success in conference play; Maryland needs a post presence to emerge. Neither of them were going to flip a switch and become better players, they have to work their way to it and games like this will help.
Turnovers have been an issue for the Terrapins since last season, and without Seth Allen the problem looked as if it would continue this season. On Thursday, Maryland only turned the ball over 11 times at Boston College, and on Saturday against FAU they only turned it over 9 times. Roddy Peters had a majority of the turnovers on Saturday with three, but that is to be expected with a freshman point guard. Most impressive in the win over FAU was that Nick Faust played a lot of minutes at the point guard and only had two turnovers, and Dez Wells finished with no turnovers. Florida Atlantic played a zone for long stretches of the game, and didn’t pressure the Terps as much as others have and will. Regardless, it was still encouraging to see Maryland’s guards do a better job of handling the ball and running the offense. With the game being tight down the stretch, it helped Maryland that they were not giving up the ball. The same is true for the game at Boston College, when Maryland turned a four point hole into an eight point win, by handling the ball well and scoring every time down the court.
Finally, Maryland appears to be improving from the free throw line. At Boston College they finished 16/22 and in the final eight minutes of the game they went 8/11 from the stripe. On Saturday against FAU, Maryland shot 9/12 from the free throw line. There is still room for improvement, but no problem is going to be completely resolved in one night, it takes time to fix problems in sports. In back to back games, Maryland has shot over 70% from the free throw line, which should be encouraging to fans. The Terps seemed more confident from the free throw line, and took advantage of their opportunities from the line in both games. Maryland also wasn’t shying away from contact out of fear of shooting free throws, which tends to be a case with teams that struggle from the stripe.
Does one game mean that the problems with post play, turnovers, and free shooting are gone? Not at all, but they show fans that the team is progressing and working on improving these aspects of their game. We often forget how young this team is and the adjustments the players are making to new roles. Shaq Cleare was injured for much of the offseason, and is attempting to replace the fifth overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft. This is no easy task, even for a player who was a highly rated recruit. Roddy Peters wasn’t going to have a seamless transition from a player who missed his senior season to starting ACC point guard. However, this team is improving every game and coach Turgeon is beginning to figure out what he will get from everyone on the roster. While a six point victory over FAU isn’t going to have many fans pleased, they should feel encouraged that Maryland found a way to win a game that had Dez Wells, Nick Faust, and Evan Smotrycz shoot a combined 7/31 from the field and 3/13 from three.