A sharing experience for Maryland

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Maryland ranks No. 2 in assist percentage

When Northwestern hosted Maryland in a Big Ten-ACC Challenge game last month, it matched teams that currently rank first and second in the nation in assist percentage.

It's no surprise that Northwestern shares the ball. The Wildcats play the equal-opportunity Princeton offense, defined by back-door cuts and bounce passes.

But what is Maryland doing with 169 assists on 247 baskets? The Terrapins' 68.4 assist percentage is a radical departure from last year when only 45.8 percent of their baskets were assisted as they ranked No. 327 among 344 Division I teams.

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"We've turned into a very good passing team," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "We've got guys who can finish, which really helps, too."

All four of the primary perimeter players -- point guards Pe'Shon Howard (5.9 assists per game) and Seth Allen (3.8 apg) and wings Nick Faust (3.1 apg) and Dez Wells (3.0 apg) -- have contributed to the gaudy assist numbers.

To a man, the Terps contend that sharing the ball is an outgrowth of their cohesion off the court, which has come despite a lack of familiarity. Six of the 10 players in the rotation were other places last year. Two of the holdovers -- Alex Len and Howard -- missed significant time last season.

"We're really great friends. That's the most important thing," Wells said. "We don't have any egos. We just want to see each other succeed."

For Wells, passing has been infectious. Last year playing 26.1 minutes per game for Sweet 16 team Xavier, Wells averaged 1.1 assists. This year in 25.8 minutes per game, he is averaging nearly three times as many assists.

Senior forward James Padgett says that with better ball movement, he is getting his touches in better spots on the floor. His shooting percentage -- 65.5 percent this season as opposed to 51.5 last year -- supports his claim.

"A lot of my shots, I don't have to do as much to score," Padgett said. "Our shooting percentage is much higher. That comes with the assists as well."

Last season the Maryland offense revolved around ACC scoring leader Terrell Stoglin. The Terps' best chance to score often rested on his ability to create with the ball. Stoglin averaged 21.6 points per game, more than twice as many points as any other player. This year, Maryland has eight players averaging between 6.0 and 13.9 points.

"It's just having a better team overall," Faust said. "Last year things were stagnant, not much movement. This year guys just play."

After harping on ball movement since he arrived at Maryland, Turgeon sounds surprised it has come as readily this year. He beamed on Tuesday as he talked of coaches who have visited his practices this season and raved about the Terps sharing of the ball.

"I don't recognize it sometimes," Turgeon said. "I like when guys share the ball. It's more fun to coach, more fun to watch."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner