The Washington Post

Transfer Russell does it all for Terps

- BY EMILY GIAMBALVO

With a team packed with transfers and a season only two weeks old, Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon often mentions that he and his staff still have lots to figure out with this group of Terrapins.

Some of that early trouble has required this team to navigate a repeat occurrence: second-half deficits. After rolling in the opener, Maryland (4-1) trailed at halftime in three straight games, and in the following matchup against Hofstra, when the Terps held a narrow advantage at the break, they slipped into a hole they couldn’t overcome for good until the final minute.

So this team that’s still testing lineups and tinkering with its rotation needed players, many of whom have only just begun wearing Maryland jerseys, to deliver in those late-game moments. And Fatts Russell, the veteran point guard from Rhode Island, has been there ready to contribute —

in these first few nerve-racking Maryland games and throughout his career.

When the Terps survived Friday’s game against Hofstra, Maryland needed a key block from senior guard Eric Ayala, a four-year starter in College Park, and a pair of clutch free throws from Ian Martinez, a transfer from Utah. But the mid-major visitors still had a few seconds to try to muster a final basket. As Hofstra inbounded the ball, Russell came up with a steal to end the game.

“Coach told us to push the ball backwards,” Russell said. “And I saw the player’s eyes looking like he was about to pass the ball in, and I just shot the gap. There, you don’t really want to gamble, but I trust my instincts.”

That’s the value of a player who has appeared in 124 college basketball games and has 216 career steals.

Against Vermont, the Terps trailed by seven points just after halftime. Russell hit a three-pointer a few minutes later, and Maryland never trailed again. Russell scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half to ensure his team wouldn’t have one of those pressure-packed finishes.

And when Maryland needed a basket to maintain control of its lead over George Washington, Turgeon sent his team onto the court for a possession that was supposed to end one of two ways. Either center Qudus Wahab would score in the post, or Ayala would get in the lane to make a play for himself or a teammate.

But because it’s still November and the Terrapins hadn’t yet spent considerab­le time in practice working on these late-game situations, the initial plan didn’t work how the staff intended. Maryland had a three-point lead with less than a minute to go, and the coaches yelled, “Throw it to Fatts!”

Russell hit the step-back three to ensure the Terps didn’t suffer a deflating loss.

“He’s made that shot his whole life,” said Turgeon, who was mostly concerned about his team running back to play solid defense.

Russell transferre­d to Maryland for his final season of college basketball after spending four years at Rhode Island often providing a major scoring boost. In College Park, with talented players such as Ayala and junior forward Donta Scott around him, Russell and his coaches harped on how he would have more of a distributi­ng role. They envisioned a season in which Russell sometimes drops 20 points but also has nights when he contribute­s in a quieter way.

So far, the Terps have mostly seen a high-scoring version of Russell. He had a difficult night with only two points in Maryland’s loss against George Mason; he finished 1 of 7 from the field, missing all three of his tries from deep and both of his free throw attempts, but he still had six assists. In each of the other four games, Russell has scored at least 12 points.

Before heading to the Bahamas for a tournament that will include games against Richmond on Thursday and either Mississipp­i State or Louisville on Saturday, Russell is averaging 12.8 points, the second most on the team behind only Ayala (15.4), to go with a team-high 3.4 assists.

“He’s had to score,” Turgeon said of Russell last week.

Some of the Terps’ top players didn’t have standout starts to the season. Ayala, who led the team in scoring as a junior, finished with 13 and 11 points in the first two games, and in those performanc­es, he combined to go 9 for 27 from the field and 3 for 13 from three-point range. But then he erupted for 22 points against Vermont, matching Russell’s production that day. Scott, who had the team’s best three-point shooting percentage last season, is averaging 9.8 points this year and has made 5 of 19 threes.

So Maryland has needed Russell, and the team’s success as the competitio­n ramps up depends on whether the Terps can count on at least a few consistent shooters.

Maryland is shooting 25.4 percent from three-point range, which ranks in the bottom 20 across 350 Division I schools.

“We’re getting the right shots,” Russell said recently. “We’re just not making them. I know eventually that will happen. We’ve just got to stay the course.”

During his three seasons as a Rhode Island starter, Russell averaged 8.6 attempts from two-point range and 5.3 from three. At Maryland, he has taken a similar number of two-pointers (7.6), but he’s only 3 for 12 from behind the arc.

Russell said he tries to get a feel for each game and how his teammates are performing as he determines how aggressive he should be as a scorer. The offense is still a work in progress, even though the constructi­on of this year’s roster gives the Terps the capability to have a more balanced attack. Consistent shooting is the missing piece, and with difficult games approachin­g, there’s increased urgency for solutions.

Russell will continue to be a centerpiec­e and could turn into a catalyst for that growth. He arrived in College Park ready to embrace whatever role the Terps needed. Because when asked what he was most looking forward to about the season, Russell simply said: “Winning championsh­ips. That’s what I came here to do, and I felt like all of us are on the same page with that.”

 ?? KATHERINE FREY/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Maryland point guard Fatts Russell, who transferre­d from Rhode Island, is second on the team in scoring with 12.8 points per game.
KATHERINE FREY/THE WASHINGTON POST Maryland point guard Fatts Russell, who transferre­d from Rhode Island, is second on the team in scoring with 12.8 points per game.
 ?? JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Fatts Russell went to Maryland for his final season after spending four years at Rhode Island often providing a major scoring boost.
JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST Fatts Russell went to Maryland for his final season after spending four years at Rhode Island often providing a major scoring boost.

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