Welcome to our next edition of "The Five," where we take a look at five trends from Maryland's 64-47 victory against Virginia Tech March 4 at the Comcast Center.
Cleare Steps Up
With Charles Mitchell AWOL in the second half, classmate and fellow big man, the erstwhile Shaq Cleare, made his presence felt for the first time in a long while. The sophomore center made two grown-up, powerful post moves, finishing with a pair of emphatic dunks to spark UMD's second-half run. In addition, Cleare grabbed three rebounds, came up with a steal and had a block -- all in the latter 20 minutes (he had one layup in the first half).
Aside from a couple select outings and strong rebounding efforts, Cleare has been mostly a no-show this year, especially on the offensive end. His footwork was awkward and his moves were raw, which isn't a good recipe for down-low success. But against Tech, Cleare flashed a deftness we haven't seen since before conference play began. On top of that, he finished -- something he hadn't done with any regularity this season, as he routinely missed bunnies when given opportunities around the rim.
The question is, Can Cleare build on the March 4 effort? Or will he revert to form?
Wells Still Has It
The Terps seemed to get lulled to sleep in the first half, up against a sunk in 2-3 zone and a less-than-lively crowd of 10, 517, there wasn't much of a spark to their game. The lackadaisical first half, which saw the Terps shoot less than 40 percent from the floor, left the Terps down by one at the break, 29-28.
Whatever happened behind the closed doors of the Terps' locker room seemed to ignite the team on both ends of the court, but it started with junior Dez Wells. Wells picked off a Devin Wilson pass, converting the steal into a three-point play with a monster dunk and a free throw. Over the next three minutes, he proceeded to come up with a steal, a block and two offensive rebounds, the latter of which he corralled and kicked out to an open Nick Faust, who drained a 3. It sparked the Terps on an 18-5 run that had Maryland up by 12, 46-34, with just under 13 minutes to play. Tech never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Overall, Wells' numbers weren't absurdly flashy: 11 points, four assists, three rebounds, two blocks and two steals, but he was the only one who really attacked the Tech zone effectively and distributed the ball well.
A Season Low To Be Happy About
The Terps' victory was not exactly a work of art, but Maryland did manage to steer clear of an abundance of self-inflicted errors. As a team, the Terps had a season low five turnovers. Now, the Hokies hardly played a lockdown defense, but in the past Maryland could've even slipped down to Tech's slow, lethargic pace and failed to move the ball effectively. Instead, UMD pushed the tempo in the second half, made smart decisions and relatively crisper passes (aside from a few miscues).
Seth Allen, who had struggled recently running the point, settling for jumpers instead of working the ball around, had a game-high five assists and just one turnover. Allen had two nice looks inside in the second half, the first resulting in a Shaq Cleare dunk and the second a Dez Wells throwdown.
Speaking of Wells, he dished out four dimes and had zero turnovers, while Evan Smotrycz had three assists and zero miscues. Both typically turn the ball over a couple times each night, so to do errorless is a step in the right direction for those two, as well as the rest of the squad.
Only Nick Faust (two turnovers) made a few questionable decisions that drew Turgeon's ire,
Speaking Of Turnovers
Maryland ramped up its defensive pressure, especially in the second half against Virginia Tech, forcing 10 turnovers in the final 20 minutes (Tech had 17 overall). The Terps came away with six steals, four in the second half, and, as aforementioned, Dez Wells sparked UMD with a swipe right after halftime.
Even more impressive was the for once the Terps took advantage of those takeaways. Maryland had 18 points off of turnovers, and 11 fast-break points, while the Hokies were shut out of both categories.
Now, the Hokies still had double-digit paint points in the latter frame and outrebounded UMD 40-30, but UMD still stayed active defensively; had its hands in passing lanes; and altered its share of shots. Wells came away with two blocks on Tech drives and Shaq Cleare had one inside stuff, while backup big men Jonathan Graham and Damonte Dodd each provided a few solid defensive minutes.
No Paint Presence Early
The purpose of a zone is to force opposing teams to settle for jump shots, but every 2-3 has holes and lanes to the hoop. Maryland, though, failed to exploit those lanes, routinely throwing up mid-range to deep jump shots throughout the first half. Thus, the Terps shot 39 percent from the floor and trailed 29-28 after the initial 20 minutes. The Terps jacked up 12 3-pointers (making four of them), and of their 28 total shots, only four or five came near the hoop. Struggling wing Nick Faust threw up two early 3s instead of working the ball inside, and for the second straight game caused head coach Mark Turgeon to throw a relative fit on the sideline.
Of all the guards and wings on the roster, only Dez Wells showed any ability to break through the zone and finish at the rim. The junior wing converted two layups inside and scored six first-half points. He was particularly effective posting up inside and then pivoting into the lane. But for whatever reason Wells only dropped inside on a handful of occasions, as he spent most of the time on the perimeter. (Fortunately for Maryland, and to its credit, it made adjustments in the second half and began flowing cutters through the lane and getting a few more opportunities in the paint).
In the past Wells, a burly, thick-bodied specimen, has done well in the paint area, and perhaps he should've operated down low more often this season. Maryland could have used his paint presence with only Charles Mitchell producing any type of points inside this year.
The Five: What I Learned After Virginia Tech
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