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STEVE DESHAZO: In Allen, Terps’ Turgeon has a willing student

COLLEGE PARK, Md.—When starting point guard Nick Faust’s troublesome shoulder flared up before Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Virginia Tech, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon needed a fill-in. Freshman Seth Allen might have seemed like a natural choice for his first college start, but Turgeon kept the former Fredericksburg Christian School star on the bench at tip-off.

“Seth’s not mature enough,” Turgeon explained. “He’s got to grow up.”

The Hokies might beg to differ. And after Allen poured in a team- and career-high 21 points in Maryland’s 94–71 romp they should be concerned about what Allen (and the Terps) will look like in their rematch Feb. 7 in Blacksburg. If this is his formative period, what will the finished product look like?

“I didn’t think I’d do this good,” Allen said after sinking 8 of 12 shots (including 3 of 6 3-pointers). “I just wanted to come out and play. I was really anxious before the game. I just tried to do the best I could.

“I didn’t know I had 21 points until I looked at the stats and said, ‘What?’ I was just trying to play defense.”

That’s what he’ll need to do more of to please his coach. No one’s ever questioned Allen’s ability to score. He netted 25 points per game as a junior, leading FCS to a 31–2 record, and added 20 per contest in an injury-plagued senior season.

But college basketball benches are littered with former one-dimensional high school stars. Allen is learning on the fly—albeit on a deep, young, successful (13–1) team that may well crack the national rankings this week, Saturday’s game played directly to Allen’s strengths. The Hokies love a fast tempo (as does Allen). And his effectiveness, combined with Faust’s unavailability, kept Allen on the court a career-high 30 minutes. And Turgeon did praise Allen’s progress, even as he tried to preach the need for maturity.

“I’m proudest of all that coach Turgeon has taught me about the game,’” Allen said. “I’m learning so much. Defensively, I have to work on getting better, and learning to be a better point guard, making better reads.”

Allen is one of four freshmen who see significant playing time for Maryland. Swingman Jake Laymon, who started in Faust’s place, also set a career high with 20 points Saturday. Big men Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare combined for 12 points and eight rebounds.

There haven’t been many growing pains—at least not yet. After taking Kentucky to the wire in their opener, the Terps have rolled through their last 13 games, winning only twice by fewer than 10 points. Less than two years after Gary Williams’ retirement left fans wondering if the cupboard was bare, Turgeon has assembled an emerging power with only two seniors (forward James Padgett and reserve guard Logan Aronhalt).

Granted, the rebuilding Hokies didn’t test Maryland the way Florida State will on Wednesday night, or to the degree that N.C. State, North Carolina and Duke will later this month. But the Terps plan to improve along with the competition.

“I don’t know who our best player is right now. I really don’t,” Turgeon said.

Added sophomore forward Dez Wells: “If we all start clicking on the same cylinder, it’s going to be really, really scary for the ACC.”

Vastly improved 7-footer Alex Len may bolt for the NBA after this season; he’s projected as a draft lottery pick. But Turgeon seems to have a well-stocked roster, and Allen remains an integral part of his plans.

“He’s got a lot of things to get better at,” Wells said. “But I’ve told him, that’s a great position to be in. I’d rather have a lot to get better at than have a complete game.”

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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