- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

At the beginning of this season, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon unveiled a new motion offense, a system somewhat modeled after what the San Antonio Spurs run in the NBA. “The Maryland motion,” Turgeon called it.

The system, as one would imagine, is built around ball movement. In Turgeon’s scheme, motion is fuel. Passing and cutting make it run. Quick jump shots, meanwhile, clog the engine.

“When the ball doesn’t move, we don’t score as much,” redshirt senior Richaud Pack said. “It’s that simple.”

That’s what happened last week, when the 17th-ranked Terrapins were blown out by Ohio State, 80-56, in their most lopsided loss of the season. When they watched film of the game, they saw themselves standing still or the ball staying in one spot. They saw too many quick jump shots, especially late in the game. Their motion offense lacked motion.

“I think the ball is just sticking at some points,” junior forward Jake Layman said. “When we’re moving the ball and when we’re cutting and we’re looking to score, then we’re really hard to guard. But when we hold the ball too much, then it’s easy to guard us.”

In the days leading up to Wednesday’s game against Penn State, this movement has been an area of focus for Maryland. With nearly six full days between games, the Terrapins took time to rest and watched the Super Bowl at Turgeon’s house. Then they got back to work, focusing on re-energizing their offense as they head down the stretch in conference play.

“We really worked hard on us,” Turgeon said Tuesday. “Sometimes you get in the routine of scouting report, next game, next game, and you put too much into the team you’re playing and not enough into yourself. We’ve just really worked on us. We’ve had great practices. Mentally and physically, we’ve worked on us.”

Thursday’s loss, coupled with an 89-70 defeat at Indiana one week earlier, has created a sense that the sky is falling in College Park. Maryland’s home win over Michigan State is nearly three weeks in the rearview mirror, and in the three games since, the Terrapins have won only once — on a miraculous putback by Dez Wells against Northwestern.

The reality, however, is that Maryland is 18-4 and still tied for second place in the Big Ten. And Turgeon isn’t the least bit concerned.

“It’s college basketball. Unless you’re Kentucky or Kansas — everybody loses,” the fourth-year coach said. “That we can lose the way we lost and drop one spot in the poll tells you that everybody loses. So it is what it is.”

Still, Turgeon acknowledges there is plenty to work on, beginning with the offense. He believes the Terrapins have been settling for shots in recent weeks and “were not willing to work.” The statistics support that view, as they now rank 11th out of 14 conference teams in both assists (11.4 per game) and assist/turnover ratio (0.9).

One of Turgeon’s solutions: instructing players to count passes out loud this week in an effort to promote ball movement. Though the coach hasn’t set a specific number of passes before allowing a shot, players believe the wrinkle has served its purpose. Pack said the only way to improve ball movement is to think about it.

“I think it’s completely mental,” he said. “It’s just proven, with statistics we’ve been keeping, the more we pass the ball, the better shot we get. The percentages are better, and the assist numbers are higher, and the turnovers are down.”

Maryland will also hope to get freshman point guard Melo Trimble back on track against Penn State. The team’s leading scorer had arguably his worst game of the season against the Buckeyes last week, finishing with three points, one rebound and one assist in 34 minutes. He didn’t make any of his eight field goal attempts.

Fatigue might have been partially to blame for Trimble’s performance, and Turgeon has complete confidence that the freshman will bounce back Wednesday.

“He had a game where he didn’t play well,” Turgeon said, “but the whole team stunk.”

Turgeon hopes a rejuvenated Trimble, and a renewed focus on ball movement, will lead to a better result Wednesday. Though the Terrapins have struggled in their past three games, they’ve also been careful to keep this stretch in perspective.

“We know we have to play a lot better if we want to compete and want to win in the Big Ten,” Pack said. “But at the same time, we can be calm in knowing that we’re in a good place and confident in what we’ve done so far.”

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