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Maryland’s success hinges on freshmen play

Right now, many are struggling

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mark Turgeon wanted the breakthrough to come this week. Actually, he probably wanted it a month earlier, but at this stage the sooner the better would suffice.

Freshman guard Seth Allen offered promising look-ins on the player he might eventually become, the player Turgeon was so quick to offer a scholarship to after he took the Maryland basketball coaching job in May 2011. For two days, Allen looked as sharp as at any point all season.

Then came Wednesday, when Allen had seven turnovers and 15 minutes in a 71-38 defeat of Monmouth at Comcast Center. The Terps coughed it up 23 times as a team. Go figure.

"I'm on him," Turgeon said. "I watch film with him. At some point, it has to click in for him. That's probably the most disappointing thing. With that said, the last two days, he's looked like a real player, a real player. Usually it takes time."

Time is luxury Turgeon evidently does not believe is on his side with these Terrapins (9-1), regardless of the nine-game winning streak they haul into an exams break. And it has everything to do with youth that cannot grow up fast enough.

Turgeon remade his roster on the fly since the end of last season, returning only four regulars from last year's rotation and filling in where he could. Xavier transfer Dez Wells and guard Logan Aronhalt, a graduate student who played three seasons at Albany, were more ready-made options.

Yet for Maryland to thrive beyond its final three nonconference games, it will need a few of the four freshmen who are rotation regulars to emerge as more reliable options.

All four had issues Wednesday, even as the Terps cruised thanks to a strong defensive performance.

No one is struggling as much as forward Jake Layman, who was held out for the first half against Monmouth for failing to take care of his academic obligations. Even as Turgeon said "he's lucky he played," Layman logged 13 minutes and saw his shooting percentage tumble to 32.4 percent on the season.

"He's got to be tough enough," Turgeon said. "If he wants to play at Maryland, he has to be tough. He's got to get [his confidence] back. He doesn't have it. It's painfully obvious."

While Layman's absence was notable in the first half, Turgeon offered a bit of a rebuke for forwards Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell (as well as senior James Padgett) as well. Scout-teamer John Auslander started the second half alongside center Alex Len, and the Terps eliminated any drama from the game by stretching their lead from 10 to 15.

Both Cleare and Mitchell played after the break, though neither was as effective as Turgeon would like.

"Shaq has been really good in practice and he was — let me temper it — he wasn't very good when he went in," Turgeon said. "Just wasn't very good. He was lost, spinning in circles. Same with Charles. Charles just wasn't very good. I feel like I keep giving these guys minutes hoping they're going to get better."

Allen's in a trickier spot, if only because of Turgeon's demands as a former point guard. While not perfect, Allen was the steadiest of Maryland's freshmen before Wednesday's struggles.

"It's hard to play for somebody who played your position," Wells said. "I play two-guard, so if Kobe Bryant was coaching me, it'd probably be hell to play for him. ... It's not easy on Seth. I can give him that but he has the right mentality about it and he really wants to get better. As he starts to mature and he starts to get better, you'll see a lot more out of him."

Turgeon's patience, though, is starting to wane. Perhaps it is because an 18-game conference schedule commences in less than a month, a stretch the coach knows will go much further in determining his team's fate than its opening 10 outings.

For now, he has a stretch of one game in 16 days, a time for improvement Maryland would be wise to exploit as the second half of the season draws closer.

"Our freshmen weren't very good," Turgeon said. "Everyone talks about what a great class this is. Well, to me you judge a class when they graduate. They have to get a lot better to get to where we want to be this year."

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