Welcome back to Morning Shootaround, a regular feature this season the day after Maryland basketball games. While we can't bring you into the Terps' lockerroom after games – reporters haven't been allowed in there since the last couple of years under Gary Williams – we will recap what was said in the press conference afterward by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his players. We will give some of our own insight into what transpired on the court during the previous day's game and what the Terps will be working on at practice looking ahead to their next game.
Maryland 72, Clemson 59 Saturday @ Comcast Center
This had all the makings of the day after the day after New Year's, when the hangover is still lingering, when you can't quite get rid of the headache from two nights before. In Maryland's case, it was getting over the memories – and the pounding headache – from Tuesday's deflating loss at Boston College that followed what had a chance to be a season-defining win over then No. 2 Duke.
The Terps were not alone. Their fans – at least those among the announced crowd of 15,353 who showed up for the noon tip – were also dead coming out.
"We were flat, and the building was flat," Turgeon said.
A rare early press – something Turgeon has typically resorted to in desperation against ACC opponents this season – helped the Terps reverse an early deficit and build a 10-point lead late in the first half against the Tigers. Unlike other games this season, when Maryland has squandered double-digit first half leads and lost, the Terps let Clemson get within three by halftime before opening it up again in the second half.
I think a lot had to do with the opponent – like Maryland, Clemson (13-13, 5-9) has won only once in five ACC road games this season – and the fact that the Terps are a much better team at home (15-2) than on the road (2-5). Maryland won despite Alex Len having another sub-par game (9 points on 4 of 10 shooting, 8 rebounds, 1 blocked shot) and an abysmal 6 of 15 shooting free throws.
But unlike some games this season when the Terps let an opponent hang around longer than it should have – or long enough to get its legs and confidence to win, as was the case of last Tuesday's game at BC – Maryland never let Clemson get within eight or nine points for much of the second half. A19-8 assist-to-turnover ratio was their best of the season and the fewest number of turnovers this season.
"We just seemed a lot more mature today than we've been in awhile," Turgeon said.
Is Faust back on point?
Sophomore guard Nick Faust (City) started again at point. More importantly, he stayed there for nearly all of his 29 minutes and played his best all-around game of the season and one of the best since coming to College Park.
"When you make shots, you stay on the floor, I've just got to keep making shots," Faust said.
Faust, who came into the game shooting worse this season (36.7) than he did as a freshman (37.4), shot the ball better than he had all season, finishing with a season-high 18 points (one shy of his career-high) by shooting 7 of 10 overall and 4 of 7 on threes. He had three assists and no turnovers, following up the five assists and no turnovers he had against Boston College. He had three steals and one blocked shot.
Faust, who will celebrate his 20th birthday Monday, admits that he is still "just trying to get the hang of [playing point guard] still, trying to execute and just run what coach wants us to run and not get a turnover."
For Faust, it all starts with the confidence he derives from his jump shot – and from Turgeon. Amid a lot of internet chatter that Faust is not happy with his role and might be considering leaving Maryland after this season, the 6-6 sophomore showed for at least one afternoon why there was so much excitement about him coming out of high school.
"Coach says that when I'm stepping into my shot I usually make it, when I'm kind of loose with it, that's when I miss," Faust said.
Faust said that he had the feeling all but one of his shots were going in except for a second-half airball – "I was kind of tired," he said with a smile – and that his recent late-night work with a shooting machine has helped.
If Faust can string together a few more games like this as the team's point guard, it will help solidify his role going into next season. I still think it will be asking a lot out of incoming freshman Roddy Peters to assume the starting role at the beginning of next season and having Faust there could ease the transition.
But, given the way he has been bounced around because of his and his team's erratic play at the point, it's hard to tell whether Faust will be there next week, let alone next year.
Future frontcourt combo
With Len struggling for a second straight game, Turgeon played freshmen Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare together for longer stints than he had all season. Both of the young wide bodies responded with strong games, with Cleare getting 10 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes as a starter and Mitchell, who started the second half, picking up eight points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes.
I wrote in Terps Trio Friday that I thought Turgeon should have played Cleare more against BC rather than Len and I thought Saturday that the team played better with the two freshmen bigs than it did with the 7-foot-1 sophomore from the Ukraine. Mitchell helped the Terps get out of their early hole and Cleare helped them extend the lead in the second half.
"It' good to see another big body out there than Shaq can bang on," Turgeon said. "The Duke game he hd [Mason] Plumlee and then [Devin] Booker today. I always tell Shaq, 'They're big and strong, but they're not big and strong as you are.' And he can wear 'em down. I was happy for him. Shaq really played well. Tuesday was his birthday at Boston College and it wasn't a good matchup for him. He was really down after the game."
Said Mitchell, "I feel when Alex is not at his best, when James [Padgett] is not at his best, I feel that it is our job, our duty [his and Cleare's] to go in there," Mitchell said. "I know some nights I'm not going to play well and they're going to have my back."
Mitchell said that the bond he has with Cleare that goes back to last summer when they first played as teammates in the Capital Classic has continued to build on and off the court. Mitchell said that Cleare was upset after the Boston College game "because we didn't win" and figured that Cleare just went back into the gym, something he does after every day.
"He's probably working out right now," Mitchell said.
Sure enough, Cleare could be seen working in the team's fitness and performance center on his low post game with director of performance Kyle Tarp.
Len's disappearing act
After putting together one of his best games of the season against Duke with 19 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, Len has been virtually invisible the past two games. He had five points and four rebounds in the loss to Boston College and didn't have much to do with Saturday's win either.
Turgeon tried to be kind, attributing Len's lackluster play to being "a little dead-legged". Turgeon also said that he has has taken Cleare off Len in practice – "Shaq beating on you wears you down," Turgeon said – but admitted that Len has to "change his mindset a little."
When I asked Turgeon what he meant by that comment, the second-year coach said, "I think he's just got to pretend he's playing Plumlee every game, that might help. To me, Booker is a heckuva player and a tough challenge and he should have been a little more into it."
Booker finished with 16 points, five rebounds and three blocked shots against Len.