Mark Turgeon thinks Darryl Morsell and Andrew Terrell are wasting their time.
Jalen Smith said the duo have talked to him about what to expect during the first big road game of his college career, Thursday’s matchup with Purdue. But, according to Turgeon, there’s nothing you can say that would truly prepare new players for an atmosphere like Mackey Arena.
Considering this Maryland men’s basketball team is so young that navigating the home crowd against No. 4 Virginia was a struggle, however, you can’t fault Morsell and Terrell for trying.
That youth creates a significant question mark, so even though Turgeon sees reason to believe the Terps will fare better on the road this year than they did last season, he knows better than to make any prediction before Thursday.
“There’s a lot of things that are pointing in the right direction,” Turgeon said. “But we’ll see when we get out there and how we react to it. It’s a whole other animal for us to get used to.”
In front of an announced crowd of 17,950 in Xfinity Center last week, Smith had his worst game of the season for the No. 23 Terps (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten). He had six points and five rebounds — the only time this year he’s fallen short of double-digit points — and he said it might not be a coincidence that the only dud of his year came in front of the biggest crowd he’s ever played in front of.
“It was very nerve-wracking. I was pretty much nervous the whole game,” Smith said. “Trying to shake it, but it just didn’t go. It was a learning experience.”
Smith said he’s glad to have those jitters out of his system before facing a tough opponent like Purdue (5-3, 0-1) in a hostile environment, a sentiment fellow freshman Aaron Wiggins concurred with.
While Smith’s inexperience might make Turgeon nervous, his presence inside gives the eighth-year coach hope. Low-post scoring threats was one of a litany of areas Turgeon referred to as being improved over last year, giving his team a better chance away from Xfinity Center.
“I like to think our defense and rebounding is better than last year,” Turgeon said. “We’ve shown the ability to get to the foul line. We haven’t shot the free throws great but we’ve shown the ability to get there, and I think that helps you, too.”
As a whole, Turgeon’s team this year is likely more talented than the squad that went 2-8 on the road last season. And indeed, Smith and forward Bruno Fernando are combining to average 28 points and 17.3 rebounds, while Fernando and center Michal Cekovsky averaged 16.5 points and eight boards in the first eight games last year.
But Maryland is allowing about five more points per game this year than last and are earning about two fewer foul shots. Plus, his team’s struggles from the foul line (69.1 free throw percentage) and with giveaways (14.1 per game) are worrisome.
“There’s a lot of things that we’re doing well that’s conducive to winning on the road,” Turgeon said. “There’s some things that we’re not doing well that’s not conducive.”
Ineptitude on the road played a significant role in keeping the Terps out of the postseason last year. Losses to Indiana, Penn State and Nebraska down the stretch helped doom a team already lacking a signature win.
The calculus will likely remain the same this year: Without road success, the NCAA tournament could be out of the question.
Turgeon has used three freshmen and essentially a six-man rotation this year, and has spent the first month of the season saying he designed a schedule to allow his young team to grow. Still, even after the Virginia experience, he expects his group to need to go through the same process on the road — and facing a Purdue team in Mackey Arena is hardly an ideal place to get your feet wet.
“Opposing team, opposing crowd and everyone’s against you and everything, it’s something we’ve just got to look at and find a way to flip it,” Wiggins said. “Just got to silence the gym and keep it all down.”