The suddenly revived Terps, who had lost two straight games before beating the Wolfpack on Alex Len's front rim lay-in with less a second remaining, will likely have to make a much higher percentage of outside shots and finish inside if they want to take down the Tar Heels.
Despite Maryland (14-3, 2-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) making only 21 of 61 shots from the field against N.C. State, including just 3 of 18 on 3-pointers, Turgeon said the offensive execution was "so much better" than it had been in Sunday night's 54-47 loss at Miami. In that game, the Terps scored a measely 14 points in the first half and shot 18 of 57 from the field, missing 12 of 15 of their 3-point shots.
"I know the numbers scoring and shooting doesn't show that," Turgeon said Friday before practice. "Our execution was better. We had more open looks, things like that. I'm sitting there watching it [on tape], I'm watching it a second time and saying, 'You've just got to coach execution.' I have good players and you have to figure out a way to win by one when you're not scoring well. Am I concerned? Yeah, I'm concerned about it, but I think we will get it going again. The start of the league is just such a grind, everyone is just so fired up and into it. The games have been very physical. We executed better, maybe an 80 percent clip [of running the play I called]."
At the core of Maryland's shooting woes is its rotation of point guards. But as Turgeon continues to tweak those playing the position — with sophomore Nick Faust (City) likely to start his second straight game, freshman Seth Allen remaining at shooting guard and junior Pe'Shon Howard coming off the bench — Turgeon and his players know they will have to score more to beat North Carolina (11-5, 1-2 ACC) at the Dean Smith Center.
"We can't win in the 50s," Allen said Friday. "We missed a lot of nit-picky shots like layups and stuff. We're tough enough to get fouled and turn them into 3-point plays. I think what would help us is not to give up on the offense and the secondary break and to use the whole shot clock if we had to and get a great shot, not just a good one. ... I think we just to execute better and play more though Alex and Shaq [Cleare] and our big guys."
It has been a long time since a Maryland team scored fewer than 100 points cumulatively over two games. It last happened in back-to-back losses to Notre Dame (63-50) and N.C. State (69-47) in the 1986-87 season, Bob Wade's first as coach and the second year after the shot clock was instituted.
The last time the Terps scored fewer points in consecutive ACC games was 1981-82, when coach Lefty Driesell slowed things down because the team lacked scorers. Over a four-game stretch late in the season, three of them defeats, Maryland averaged a shade under 39 points, including a 40-28 loss to N.C. State in the first round of the ACC tournament.
This is different. Maryland has players who can score, but after being one of the ACC's top teams in field goal percentage for much of their non-conference season and through the first half of their second ACC game, the Terps have had several long stretches without a field goal.
"If you go back and watch the film, point-blank layups, tipped dunks, really wide-open shots, if we get to half of those, we get to 60. Sounds a little better," Turgeon said. "The way we're guarding, it's probably enough."
Asked how the Terps can get back to the way they were shooting two weeks ago in a 94-71 win over Virginia Tech, when they were 31 of 60 from the field and 10 of 23 on 3-point shots, Faust said, "I think it's been a lack of focus, maybe, so I think we have to concentrate, stay in the gym and eventually those shots are going to fall."
The Terps were able to withstand another cold-shooting night by playing perhaps their best defensive game since Turgeon came to Maryland last season, holding the Wolfpack, then the top scoring team in the league, to 35 points below its previous average. The Terps lead in the ACC in field goal defense at a little over 35 percent.
The Tar Heels now lead the ACC in scoring (87.9 points, but only 62.7 in ACC games) and have been held under 60 points three times this year — losses at Indiana (83-59) and Virginia (61-52) and at home to Miami (69-58). In league games, North Carolina is ranked 11th in the ACC in field goal percentage defense (46.7) and last in 3-point percentage defense (45.2).
"We're playing a team that pressures us," Turgeon said. "That could be good or bad. It could be bad because we don't handle it. It could be good because it could open up some driving lanes and other things that can help us get some easy ones."