Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon has been preaching defense since he arrived in College Park, Md., in 2011, but the Terps have never really reached the levels the headman demanded and fans expected. Some of it was personnel related, some of it was general lackadaisical play and some was just not committing enough time and effort into becoming lockdown defenders.
The jury is still out on the 2014-15 version of UMD’s “D,” but the Terps did jump out to a decent start Nov. 14 in an 82-48 victory against Wagner. Maryland held the Seahawks to just 26.9 percent shooting (18 of 67) and 13 percent from 3-point range (3 of 23), while forcing 11 turnovers.
“We have guys buying into what we’re trying to do defensively,” Turgeon said during his Nov. 16 teleconference ahead of Maryland’s Nov. 17 7:35 p.m. home game against Central Connecticut State. CCSU lost its opener to Fairfield, 71-63, but features a guard, Matt Mobley, who scored 30 points in the effort. “We have a little more depth this year than last year at this time. We’ve bought in, we’ve worked really hard at it, and we’ve gotten a little lucky too. Teams have missed shots, and that can make you look a little better than you really are. … But we watched some film and we’ll get some things corrected before the next game.”
Maryland guard Richaud Pack swiped one of UMD’s two steals against Wagner, and added six rebounds. He said the Terps have been all about defense since transferring in from North Carolina A&T.
“We were just locked in from the beginning,” Pack said after the game Nov. 15. “That’s what we said in our first huddle – this game is about defense. Defense led to a pretty good offensive performance in the first half, too.”
But while the Terps did clamp down and ratcheted up the defensive intensity during the season opener, Maryland still had its share of rebounding issues. They out-boarded the Seahawks 44-35, including 34-18 on the defensive end, but Wagner still managed to corral 17 offensive rebounds. That’s been a concern since the exhibition season began, when Turgeon lamented San Francisco State’s and Bowie State’s ability to get second-chance opportunities.
During his Nov. 16 teleconference, Turgeon said the Terps’ guards were “leaking out” instead of crashing the glass, while his big men ended up fumbling three or four potential boards because they were trying almost too hard to corral them.
The latter issue Turgeon can deal with. But…
“We have some guys just not boxing out – just not doing it,” Turgeon said. “It’s a combination of things (keeping foes off the offensive glass), but we have to get more physical on our box outs. … Our guards have to rebound well for us to be a good rebounding team. We’re going to play four guards a lot, and they have to rebound.
“At this point I thought we’d be better rebounding. Every possession is a little different, but it’s correctable. We’re getting better in practice, and that should eventually carry over to the games.”
Offensively, Maryland is still a work in progress as freshman point guard Romelo Trimble continues to acclimate himself to the college game, while the team as a whole adjusts to the new “motion” offense. The Terps did end up shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep against Wagner, but they turned the ball over 14 times and recorded just nine total assists, six of them coming from junior forward Jake Layman.
“I thought the first half we really shared the ball. The second half [Wagner] was pressuring us a little more, so we drove the ball more, we spread the floor and were able to get all the way to the rim. Our shooting percentage went up, so we were taking good shots,” said Turgeon, who noted that Central Connecticut will provide a different challenge defensively considering they play more zone and don’t pressure the ball as much as Wagner. “Our spacing is getting better, but we still have work to do. The pressure got to us a little bit the other night, and our secondary breaks can be better. But sharing the ball, shot selection, taking what the defense gave us -- I thought we did pretty well.”
“We pride ourselves on how we move the ball,” Layman said Nov. 14. “This team, that’s what Coach wants from us – to make the extra pass.”
Trimble, for his part, did not drop a single dime, however. But he did score 13 points and canned a pair of treys.
“[Trimble and I] talked briefly, not very long. We watched film [Nov. 15] and lifted and shot a little bit, so I just asked him how he felt [Nov. 16],” Turgeon said of Trimble. “I asked him if he was nervous, and he said not as nervous as he was for the first exhibition game … I think if you look at his numbers, other than not having any assists, they were pretty good. He missed a couple floaters he normally doesn’t, but I thought he was pretty solid defensively. It was a good first game.”
Turgeon went on to address the status of senior wing Dez Wells, who went down in a heap at the 1:32 mark Nov. 14 against Wagner. Wells drove the lane and took a jump step, which led to a twisted ankle that looked to be a severe sprain. But the senior walked off the floor under his own power and returned to action to begin the second half. He ended up scoring a game-high 18 points to go along with three rebounds, a steal and a block.
“I’m made of steel,” Wells quipped after the game. “I’m unbreakable.”
Maybe so, but Turgeon said that while Wells is “fine,” he’s not 100 percent healthy.
“He continues to tweak [the ankle]. It’s a little weak,” Turgeon said. “It’s a funny thing. It really hurt when he first [landed on the ankle], but then no pain at all [a few minutes later]. No swelling. It’s kind of a funny wear and tear over the years, tweaking it. Hopefully as the season goes on [his ankle] gets stronger. Three times this year he’s tweaked it like that. Twice in practice we’ve sent him out, and there’s never been any swelling. The doctors feel pretty good about it.”
In other injury news, Turgeon updated the status of felled senior stretch-4 Evan Smotrycz, who broke his foot a month ago. The Terps’ head coach said Smotrycz had an X-Ray last week that “looked good.”
“Everything is progressing the right way,” Turgeon said. “It’s a six-week injury and we’re at four weeks.”
The question, though, is whether Smotrycz will regain his starting role once he returns. Right now Layman has moved down to the paint area, and more than held his own against Wagner.
“I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll see how [Smotrycz] responds when the time comes,” Turgeon said. “Everyone is a little different when they come back [from injuries]. That’s probably a couple weeks away before we have to think about something like that.”
As far as the rest of the lineup is concerned, Turgeon said he’s still “tinkering” with it. Against Wagner he started Trimble at point, Pack at shooting guard, Wells at the wing, Layman at the four spot and Jon Graham at center. The first four will likely remain in-tact, but Turgeon said he has some flexibility at the center spot with Graham, Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky rotating through.
Cekovsky and Dodd were on the floor at the same time for stretches against Wagner, but Turgeon admitted that was only to get them more action. Against stiffer competition, he’s unlikely to insert them into the game together.
Overall, though, Turgeon said he’s pleased where his squad is at heading into the Nov. 17 bout against Central Connecticut.
“It’s too early to tell early, [but] this group has been quick learning, they work hard, and they’re humble kids,” Turgeon said. “I like their progression; I like how it’s going with them. Some guys might be coming faster than others, but as a group they’re progressing in the right direction.”
Terps Buying In Defensively Heading Into Game 2
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