The combination of two hours of a typical high-wire Maryland game and the weariness of battling cold left Mark Turgeon’s mind wandering in the aftermath of the Terrapins’ 73-69 defeat of Virginia Tech.
He was sick of being sick and probably a little weary of inevitably close games. What he wasn’t tired of was his team.
That probably wasn’t always the case all season. Yet Turgeon witnessed in the last week substantial progress in preparation, a step in maturity that finally netted a victory Saturday to snap a three-game skid.
“I don’t want to brag too much because it’s just three games, and we lost two of them,” Turgeon said. “But it’s a lot more fun to be around and it’s a lot more fun to coach.”
The win no doubt went a long way to pleasing Turgeon, whose Terps (13-7, 3-3 ACC) find themselves in the middle of a massive midpack scrum in the conference as their January schedule comes to a close. Terrell Stoglin scored 28 points and Sean Mosley added 15 as Maryland outlasted the reeling Hokies (12-9, 1-5).
But run down a checklist of Turgeon’s perpetually daily hopes, and the Terps came closer than ever to filling them all.
Commit to defense? Yielding 19 points in the first half and maintaining a 63-55 lead with two minutes to go is ample evidence.
Rebound? The Terps held percentage advantages on both the offensive and defensive ends.
Shoot wisely? Maryland’s 46.8 percent work from the floor was its second-best figure in conference play.
Maybe Maryland didn’t value possession quite like it should have. But the Terps surely followed Turgeon’s message that preceded a productive Friday practice.
“Have fun, hustle and good things will happen,” Turgeon recounted.
It’s a change of pace from Turgeon, if only because of a different approach from his team. When Turgeon entered the locker room after an 84-70 loss at Florida State on Jan. 17 that featured a shoddy second half, he found players laughing and joking around. It did not go over well.
Perhaps it led to some self-reflection. Maryland played well deep into losses to Temple and Duke. Then came Saturday, when it never trailed and led by as many as 15 and left Turgeon reasonably well if not thoroughly satisfied.
“I can see it,” said forward Ashton Pankey, who matched a career-best with 11 rebounds. “He’s been happier in practice. He’s proud of us. Guys are getting to practice early and we’re showing we want to work hard. That pleases him, so he’s proud of us and he’s really starting to enjoy coaching now.”
Sitting at .500 in league play entering a brutal February —- six of the next nine are on the road, including trips to Duke, North Carolina and Virginia —- will make someone happier. But it is the day-to-day elements that have left Turgeon especially pleased.
Maryland’s commitment translated to Saturday’s game, during which it consistently provided some sort of answer to a Virginia Tech push. The Hokies closed within 40-34, only for Stoglin to connect on a pair of 3-pointers. The sophomore offered another reply with a 3-pointer to make it 63-55 with 2:45 to go.
Then the Terps did what they usually do, making things closer than probably necessary. But they made seven of their last eight free throws to improve to 9-1 in games decided by eight points or less.
“I think you see a team that actually cares about each other,” Turgeon said. “Our preparation for really the last three games has been off the charts, and this one was by far the best. It showed by the way we defended.”
And it helped Maryland inch ever closer to becoming a facsimile of what Turgeon wants from his teams. They, in turn, are seeing a coach who increasingly is only sick and tired of being sick.
“In practice, he doesn’t yell as much anymore,” Mosley said. “Like he said, it’s a lot more fun when he’s not stressing out and not yelling each and every play. He’s just giving us a little more freedom and guys are taking that freedom and making it into something.”
—- Patrick Stevens