Knoche: Halftime changes spark second half play

Knoche: Halftime changes spark second half play
November 25, 2012, 12:00 am
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Terps show depth in rout of Georgia Southern

Tempting though it may be, you can’t blame this one on the tryptophan.

The Maryland Terrapins, fresh off of a one day sabbatical for Thanksgiving were completely guilty of sleeping through portions of their contest against the Georgia Southern Eagles in front of 10,282 at Comcast Center tonight.

The fact that they won 70-53 can be attributed to a number of factors, not the least of which was an overwhelming amount of talent and depth compared to the visitors. This may very well have been the kind of game that last year’s Terps would have lost.

Regardless of how that team would have fared, Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon was rightly concerned about his players’ lack of focus and maturity on this particular night. The second year coach told my broadcast partner, Walt Williams, that the team was “awful and I can’t find one guy that I thought played well,” as he walked off the court at halftime.

One can only speculate on the amount of paint Turgeon peeled off the walls of the locker room at halftime with his team holding a slim 29-26 lead. The Terps had fallen down 9-1 barely three minutes into the contest, forcing Turgeon to use an early timeout. Eventually Maryland would outscore the Eagles 28-17 over the final 17 minutes of that first half but it seemed to offer the head coach very little consolation.

When they came out of the locker room to start the second half, Turgeon had made two changes to his starting lineup. He inserted fifth year senior Logan Aaronhalt for a struggling Dez Wells (0-1, 4 turnovers in the first half) and freshman Charles Mitchell for senior James Padgett at the power forward position. That substitution had less to do with what Padgett had not done in the first half than with what Mitchell had done. His stat line of 7 points and 3 rebounds belied his significance and his presence and efforts changed the game for the home team.

The changes paid immediate dividends.

Aaronhalt had nailed two three-pointers against the Georgia Southern zone in the first half and opened the scoring in the second with another 22-footer. That was followed by six consecutive points by Mitchell, another three on the wing by Nick Faust and a three-point play by center Alex Len to make the score 46-30.

The lead would ebb and flow the rest of the way but that first run in the second half proved to be the difference.

It would have been interesting to see how the game would have gone in the second half if the Eagles had not played it as if they were looking for a moral victory instead of an actual win. Even with the lead well into double digits in the second half, the Eagles were painfully deliberate in their style of play and seemed to act like they might be more interested in keeping it relatively close than actually winning the game.

But I digress.

The Terps now enter the most important stretch of the non-conference season. Their out of conference schedule is admittedly weak, perhaps because Turgeon and his staff had no idea they would be this good, this fast and under-scheduled a bit. The way things have shaken out, their three best opportunities for quality out of conference wins came against Kentucky in the opener (opportunity lost), Northwestern in the ACC-Big Ten challenge on Tuesday night and against George Mason in the BB&T Classic at Verizon Center the first Sunday in December.

Now the matchup with Northwestern looms. Given the events of the last week, the ACC-Big Ten challenge takes on a certain irony for Maryland. If you big picture the game, it offers a preview of many trips to the Midwest to come.

Don’t tell that to Mark Turgeon. 

He was very clearly furious after the game and will undoubtedly have his team’s full attention in practice these next two days leading into the game at Northwestern.