The final season of Atlantic Coast Conference play is in full swing for the University of Maryland men's basketball team. Despite some rough losses, the Terps have several things going in their favor.
Following a Dec. 21 home loss to Boston University, head coach Mark Turgeon preached to his players that the team would have a fresh start after the Christmas break. The team responded with wins during their final two nonconference games and began playing with more confidence as conference play began.
"[Turgeon] has been saying the same thing -- coming back from Christmas break, we wanted to think of it as a fresh start," junior Evan Smotrycz said.
With a nonconference loss to Oregon State already on its résumé, Maryland seemed to be heading in the wrong direction when it lost to Boston University. But the loss seemed to help bring the Terps' weaknesses to light.
"It was timely in the fact that we got to go home and reevaluate things and realize what we needed to bring and how we needed to bring it every day," Smotrycz said. "Ever since we came back, guys have been playing hard for us, and we have really good depth, so we can wear teams down."
Maryland had some setbacks during ACC road losses to Pittsburgh, 79-59, Jan. 6 and Florida State, 85-61, Jan. 12. But the Terps got a lift from the return of sophomore guard Seth Allen, who missed the first 12 games of the season with a foot injury.
Adding Allen to Turgeon's rotation not only adds another player to come off the bench, but also changes the team's overall play. Though Allen has yet to fully get his legs back, Turgeon said the team had felt a difference with him on the floor.
"It gives us all confidence," Turgeon said. "It gives us depth. The defense is nice. I know offensively we're going to get better as Seth gets closer to healthy. And our post play gets better."
With Allen back on the floor, the offense gets another shooter and playmaker. During the first five games after his return, Allen was effective when shooting beyond the arc, making 11 of 27 3-point attemps. With more games and practices, he can work his way back into making plays in the paint and at the rim. For the time being, his shooting seems to be fitting the mold of one of the best attributes of this Maryland team.
Whether Allen or Roddy Peters starts at point guard, Turgeon now has a deeper bench, which should mean fewer setbacks as the starters rotate off the floor. One of the main contributors off the bench has been former starter Nick Faust.
Entering the season, Faust had made 53 starts for the Terps. During his junior season, he has transitioned into a new role off the bench. A change like that can be hard for most players to handle, but Faust seemed to have embraced the switch.
"Coming off the bench, I can just bring a lot of energy," Faust said. "Me and Seth, coming off the bench, we're a big spark for our team."
Faust was mostly a streaky shooter, who could penetrate the defense and score at the rim. As of late, he has become a consistent long-range shooter, making 11 of 23 3-point attempts during the first five games after the team's loss to Boston University.
With the shooters that Maryland has, opposing defenses frequently left Faust with open looks. He made adjustments to his shooting motion, and Turgeon said he had seen a change in Faust's overall play.
"He got his release up higher," Turgeon said. "That's No. 1. That happened right before Christmas. When you look at percentages, who are you going to let shoot? You're going to let Nick shoot, but he's knocking them down right now. … He's playing like a veteran guard should."