Terps looking to reverse Big Ten trend
COLLEGE PARK — Sometimes it’s hard for a college basketball coach to figure how his team will handle playing away from home.
You might have a relatively young team, as Maryland coach Mark Turgeon did when he started three freshmen alongside junior point guard Melo Trimble in the 2016-17 season, and it wins seven of nine games away from Xfinity Center. The next season, with Trimble gone, and with Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan Jr. as the leaders, the Terps reversed that by winning just their first and last road games.
As No. 17 Maryland (13-3, 3-2 Big Ten) prepares to embark on its second straight road game during a stretch of four of five away from home Tuesday night at Wisconsin (10-6, 3-2), Turgeon doesn’t know what to make of the kind of road team this
season’s team will be become. Yet he knows that the Terps have to play a lot better than they have so far in losses at Penn State, at Seton Hall and at Iowa on Friday.
“If you’re a good defensive team, and you’re a good rebounding team, that gives you a chance,” Turgeon said after practice Monday. “Your shot selection and your turnovers have to be really good. Our decision making on shots and turnovers hasn’t been really good on the road, if you think about the three games. As a coach you’ve got to think about, ‘OK, this isn’t working, What are we going to do?’
“I expected us to be a good road team this year, I really did. I thought the young guys that were freshmen last year were going to be comfortable on the road. We’re not an old team by any stretch, but we’re an experienced team. We’ve got to keep plugging. You just keep plugging. It’s hard out there. I don’t know what the record of home and road is in our league — hasn’t been a lot of road wins yet.”
After a week in which Maryland was one of six ranked teams to lose to an unranked opponent — punctuated by No. 8 Michigan State’s shocking 71-42 defeat at Purdue on Sunday — Big Ten teams are just 14-42 on the road this season. Wisconsin (3-2) and Michigan State (2-1) are the only conference teams with winning records away from home.
Asked Monday if he was surprised how poorly the Terps have played on the road, sophomore guard Eric Ayala said: “I’ve noticed how everybody’s struggling on the road. We’re trying to kind of get that breakthrough for us. It’s a goal of ours to be successful on the road. We know we handle business at home and it’s important for us, we take pride in getting a road win or something like that.”
The common theme to Maryland’s three road defeats is poor shooting and sloppy execution.
In a 76-69 loss at Penn State on Dec. 10, the Terps shot 19-for-57 (33%) from the field, 8-for-23 on 3-pointers (34.8%) and committed a season-high 20 turnovers. Against Seton Hall nine days later, Maryland shot 14-for-52 ( a season-low 26.9%) overall, 5-for-21 (23.8% ) on 3’s and turned the ball over 17 times.
Though the numbers were about the same in his team’s most recent road loss — 17-for-52 overall (32.7%), 4-for-22 on 3’s (18.2%) and another 17 turnovers — the defense was possibly the laziest the Terps have played this season, and the game was basically a blowout from the middle of the first half on, when Iowa went on a 19-2 run and led by 14 at halftime.
“We’ve digressed on the road the last three games,” Turgeon said. “To me, it’s about being mentally tough enough to handle it and physically tough enough when you go on the road. That’s really important. The Iowa game, we lost our mind. We turned the ball over, [took] bad shots, didn’t execute. We’ve had two good days of practice. I think we’ve gotten better. But when the ball goes up and the lights go on, are we going to handle it?”
Turgeon said after the game in Iowa City, and reiterated Monday, that Maryland has had past success on the road. In their first year in the Big Ten, the Terps were 5-4 on the road, finishing a year in which they were blown out at Ohio State, Indiana and Iowa with road wins over Penn State, Nebraska and Rutgers. In 2016-17, Maryland won its first five true road games en route to a 7-2 record.
A year ago, despite playing with five freshmen, the Terps overcame losing at Purdue by a point in the road opener by winning five straight road games, but wound up losing four of their last five to finish 5-5 away from home. One of those losses came against the Badgers at the Kohl Center, when Maryland led by as many as nine points in the first half and by five at halftime before losing, 69-61.
After not playing at Wisconsin in their first year in the Big Ten — the Terps did upset the then-No. 5 Badgers at home that season — Maryland has lost three straight in Madison. The only win came in 2016, when Trimble hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds to beat the Badgers, 63-60. It was the same season in which Turgeon’s team lost as the No. 6 team in the country at Minnesota, which had yet to win its first 13 games in the Big Ten.
“We’ve got a track record of winning on the road,” Turgeon said Monday. “A lot of guys [on this year’s team] have won a lot of road games in that league. We’ve just haven’t figured it out this year. Hopefully we’ll figure it out soon. It hard to win [road games]. But we don’t want to play like we did the other night. To me it’s about how you play and the rest takes care of itself.”
Junior guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) preaches patience.
“I just want everyone to stay confident,” he said Tuesday. “You see how tough it is to win a road game in the Big Ten. Yesterday, you saw Michigan State lose to Purdue by almost 30. We’re just continuing to fight, to just get better every day and hopefully we can go to Wisconsin and have some success.”
Notes: Despite beating then-No. 11 Ohio State at home last week, the Terps dropped five spots in this week’s Associated Press poll, released Monday. Michigan State fell seven spots to No. 15 and Ohio State, which has lost four straight after losing to both Maryland and Indiana last week, fell 10 spots to No. 21. Michigan remained at No. 19 and Illinois, with a win at Wisconsin, moved to No. 23. Of the 23 teams that were not ranked but received votes, six were from the Big Ten, with Iowa receiving the most.