By Chris KnocheCSNWashington.com Contributor
It was never very pretty and would lead pretty much each of the announced crowd of 12,080 to believe that absolutely nothing will be easy for the Maryland Terrapins this season. Still in all, it was enough for a win against the plucky Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.
The Terps, fresh off of an embarrassing 89-63 shellacking at he hands of the Iona Gaels this past weekend, responded with an uneven effort in a return to Comcast Center. There were stretches of inspired play and stout defense. There were also stretches of mind bogglingly lackadaisical play that had Head Coach Mark Turgeon beside himself for much of the night.
The Eagles struck quickly and led 9-2 barely five minutes into the contest. Maryland then responded with a ten minute stretch of solid team play and turned the game around. In those ten minutes they used a 25-8 run to turn that 7 point deficit into a 27-17 lead, their largest of the first half.
That run was started by two short jumpers against the Eagles zone defense by little used reserve John Auslander and was aided by a timely three by walk-on Jonathan Thomas. On the heels of the Terrapin loss to Iona in the 5 Hour Energy Tip-Off last weekend, Turgeon had promised to use some of his walk-ons to help spell his scholarship players and Auslander and Thomas proved to be just what the doctor and coach ordered.
The second half offered an effort almost identical to those Maryland fans had seen in Comcast in the Terps exhibition game and their opener against UNC-Wilmington. They exploded to big leads in each of those games early in the second half only to let the opponent scratch back and make a game of it. In the game this evening the Maryland lead grew to 16 points early in the second half and it appeared to be headed to a blowout.
Someone forgot to tell Flordia Gulf Coast. Employing the kind of full court pressure that the Terps are destined to see again once tape of this game is circulated, the Eagles slowly inched back into the game. As was the case in each of their previous home efforts, Maryland greatly aided their opponents cause. They had just enough turnovers (16 for the game) and more than enough missed free throws (shooting 14-27 in the second half) to leave the door ajar for the visitors.
Florida Gulf Coast had entered the game shooting almost 40 from the three point line in their first five games. Tonight Maryland had successfully attacked them on the opponent and forced them off of their favorite spots. For the game the Eagles made only 2 of 19 attempts. Since they were struggling from the perimeter they chose to attack the basket for much of the second half and found regular success in doing so.
The combination of their success attacking the Terps off of the dribble and Maryland miscues created a Chinese Water Torture stretch of ball over the last 6 or 7 minutes. Leading scorer Terrell Stoglin entered the game shooting 92 from the line for the year but between the moment and the fatigue- he really struggled down the stretch of this game. With multiple opportunities to put this game away he missed 6 consecutive freebies at one point and shot an uncharacteristic 12-21 for the game. Simply shooting his season percentage would have allowed him to surpass his career high of 32 points set against Colorado in Puerto Rico.
So for the good news and bad.
The good news was the play of Auslander and Thomas. On a team of limited Basketball IQ, Auslander was especially a breath of fresh air. While not particularly big, he can score around the basket and will fight on defense. Even more importantly, the offense simply runs much better with him on the floor. The difference was apparent every time he entered the game tonight.
Interior players Berend Weijs and James Padgett both showed flashes around the hoop but each can be guilty of watching the action on the glass rather than asserting themselves. Padgett has one of the biggest hoops of the game in the last five minutes and seemed willing to sell-out on defense but his coaches will dwell on the fact that he had just four rebounds in the game.
Terrell was Terrell. For the most part he was the best player on the floor and Florida Gulf Coast treated him that way showing a box and one defense and shadowing him when they played zone. He still tallied 24 points on the night. Yet there were struggles against the full court pressure and missed free throws and it was all a little maddening. He also played 35 minutes and did not have one assist. For a guy with the ball in his hands for so much of the game that is almost impossible.
You can also expect that Mark Turgeon wasted no time after the game speaking with redshirt freshman forward Ashton Pankey. Pankey has been this teams best power player in the early going this year but he was replaced in the starting lineup tonight when Turgeon went with Weijs and Padgett.
Coaches are always interested in seeing how a player responds in this kind of situation and Pankey did not pass the test. He appeared to brood a bit and hung his head at the occasional mistake. As a first year coach with a successful track record at every stop along the way, Turgeon will address attitudinal issues early and often as he attempts to build his program the right way.
Next up is Illinois in the ACCBig Ten challenge on Tuesday night in College Park.. The Terps have had regular success in the event, including a 23-point win at Penn State just a year ago. This team may be hard-pressed to repeat that kind of feat this year but each night out represents an opportunity for a young team to get better against their next opponent.
It just so happens that, in this case, the next game is against a high caliber opponent in front of a national television audience.