COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Facing a five-point deficit and less than two minutes to play in their ACC/Big 10 Challenge game against Illinois on Tuesday night, Maryland desperately needed a defensive stop. When Illinois put up a bad shot, it appeared the Terps got the stop they needed.
The rebound came down between two Maryland forwards, both 6'8". But instead of one of them grabbing it, Illinois guard Sam Maniscalco, generously listed at 6'0", came away with the ball and effectively ended the game, which eventually ended in a 71-62 Illinois win.
For the 2011 Maryland Terrapins men's basketball team, a short bench and lack of inside bulk leaves the team with a low margin of error to win games. Plays like the Maniscalco rebound will define the season and they will make the difference in wins and losses. Head coach Mark Turgeon admitted as much Tuesday night.
"I told the guys it's a fine line between winning and losing," the first year Terps coach said. "At this point right now, we do not know how to win against a good team, but we will."
The first place to look may be the free throw line. Against the Illini, Maryland shot 60 percent from the charity stripe, going 15-25. Those 10 points could have been the difference between a win and a loss. Maryland barely broke the 50 percent barrier from the free-throw line in the first half, going 8 for 15. Turgeon said the misses from the free throw line, combined with poor defensive rebounding, cost his team the chance to take a 12-point halftime lead.
The free throw line may have been the most apparent place where the Terps left points on the floor, but rebounding in the second half proved to be another. Illinois beat the Terps soundly on the glass in the second half, and interior scoring shifted to the Illini advantage. Make no mistake, the Illinois squad was bigger and deeper at the post positions, notably 7'1" center Meyers Leonard, but Maryland will face that problem all year.
"I think it's just toughness - getting through it, don't let people take you out of what you're doing, run back on defense, box out," Turgeon said. "We're just too nice."
Point guard play will also be an issue for the Terps this year. The glaring need became clear when Pe'Shon Howard went down with an injury in the preseason. Howard may be back as soon as January, but between now and then the team must try to get by with shoot-first guard Terrell Stoglin and freshmen Nick Faust. Simply put, Faust is not a point guard.
"Point guard play has got to be better," Turgeon said. "Nick has lost his confidence. We've got to get his swagger back."
The coach went on to say that when Faust plays his game, he should get to the rim and subsequently the foul line and appear to have fun on the court. Against Illinois, Faust's statistics do not show a player enjoying himself. He ended the night with five points on 2-11 shooting. He turned the ball over three times compared to two assists and got to the foul line just three times.
Growing pains from a freshman, even a talented freshman like Faust, are part of life in modern college basketball. The coaching staff and players remain confident in Faust, and they need to be. With Faust, the Terps can ill afford many mistakes to win games. Without Faust, prospects look much dimmer. Stoglin voiced confidence in Faust after the game, saying "he'll be fine."
Sean Mosley will need to give the Terps more if they expect to play important basketball later this season. In Maryland's biggest game of the young season, Mosley hoisted just four shots in 34 minutes. He also turned the ball over twice. Turgeon said that the team must make a better effort to get shots for the senior from Baltimore.
"Sean has to get more shots," Turgeon said. "We need to get more from Mosley."
For Terp fans looking for a silver lining, perhaps some can be found. After the Notre Dame game this weekend in the BB&T Classic, Maryland will not face another BCS conference team for six games. By that time, when Maryland travels to NC State to open conference play, the Terps will have big man Alex Len in uniform and he should be able to help on the glass.
What Len's addition will do remains to be seen, but for a team with thin margins for error, any piece can help.
For more news, discussion and analysis on the Terps, visit SB Nation's Maryland blog, Testudo Times.