Midnight Madness returns to Cole Field House
COLLEGE PARK--Mark Turgeon was out recruiting, sitting next to Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon when the schedule for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was announced.
“Who are you playing in the Challenge?” Turgeon recalls Dixon asking him. “I said, ‘A home game, I don’t know yet.’
“He said, ‘No you don’t.’ He said ‘I was supposed to have a home game ... in the Big East last year.’ And they had to go on the road.”
“He said, ‘You’re going on the road and you don’t know it,’ and literally ten minutes later the phone rang and said I was going on the road,” Turgeon remembers. “I was pissed.”
Turgeon had been expecting a home game, being that the Terrapins had traveled to Evanston, Ill., for last season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge to take on Northwestern.
But on the road Maryland goes again Wednesday, traveling to Columbus to visit No. 5 Ohio State on national television, the team’s first true road game of the year and a preliminary taste of what next season’s conference slate in the Big Ten will be like.
“They’re veteran. They have older players, seniors, juniors,” Turgeon said. “They’ve won a lot of games, so it’s a big test for us.”
Maryland has played neutral site games against Connecticut and a three-game stretch in the Virgin Islands for Paradise Jam, but the trip to Columbus will be different. The Buckeyes averaged just over 16,500 fans per game last season, good for ninth-most in the country.
Add that to the fact that Maryland will have to deal with senior guard Aaron Craft, one of the nation’s most relentless defenders, and Wednesday night’s game will be unlike anything Maryland has faced so far this season.
Turgeon said that his team is beginning to find its groove, settling in with its new arrangement of Dez Wells at point guard and watching Evan Smotrycz, Jake Layman, and Nick Faust all find a rhythm.
But Craft presents a challenge, one that the team tried to recreate in practice this week with former walk-on Conner Lipinski. How good of an imitation has Lipinski been?
“Not a great one,” Turgeon said. “Not a great one.”
On the defensive end, Maryland has improved since struggling through defensive woes early in the season. After giving up 78 points in a loss to Connecticut and 90 more in a loss to Oregon State, Maryland has not allowed more than 66 points in any of its last four games.
The Buckeyes present a unique challenge in that they do not have one featured scorer, but instead have four players averaging double figures. Junior Amir Williams leads the team with 11.3 points per game.
“I think they’re a lot better than their numbers show offensively. I think they have eight guys that are capable of scoring in double figures every night,” Turgeon said. “You’ve got to guard the system. You’re not going to guard a player.”
That means that on any one night it could be Craft, Williams, Shannon Scott, LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Sam Thompson, or another who shoulders the load offensively.
And despite that challenge, Turgeon sees a positive in going on the road to face one of the nation's top teams.
"It's good for us," he said. "Our schedule, if you look at it, it's really a good schedule ... It gives us a chance. We don't have to be perfect. The better teams that we play make us better."
Tip off is at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.