COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It took a long time to turn Maryland’s 95-77 win over Virginia Military Institute into the breezy affair most observers expected.
Leave it to Maryland graduate student Richuad Pack to explain why the fast and furious pace favored the visiting Keydets early on. “You have to be in shape, and you have to catch your second wind. I think they got their second wind before we did. Once we got used to the pace it was our game. We just didn’t get to that until the second half.”
The Terrapins (7-0), still off to their fastest start since going 8-0 in 2006-07, trailed a few times in the first half and couldn’t shake pesky, volume-shooting VMI until a stellar second half performance paved the way.
Pack was among many Terps that enjoyed the faster pace and what that meant offensively. He was one of five Maryland players in double-figures with a game-high and career-high 22 points. It was a particularly pleasant performance for Pack, who had missed his last 13 shots over three games, and accounted for just six total points over that span.
When did he know his slump was over?
“When I saw the ball go in the first time, I just needed one,” he said. “After that it was really easy for me to get comfortable offensively.”
Offense was never the issue on this night. Maryland scored a season-high 95 points, shot 57.8 percent from the field, another season high and found answers offensively without Dez Wells, with Evan Smotrycz again hobbled, and with Jake Layman in foul trouble.
“Our press offense was great (in the second half), we got layups and if we didn’t have layups we used the clock better,” said Terrapin coach Mark Turgeon. “And (we) played our game a little more in the second half, and ended up shooting 58 percent. (VMI is) a hard team to get used to.”
The Keydets (2-4) have led the nation in scoring several times over coach Duggar Baucom’s tenure, and their plan is to push the pace and trade their threes for your twos. They came in tied for the national lead, averaging 13 3-pointers made per game.
That up-and-down style led to Dion Wiley getting his career-high 19 points, often in the paint at the end of a Maryland press-break, and Melo Trimble and Layman each also scoring 19.
Freshman Michal Cekovsky, improving rapidly at both ends, was another target behind the press, registering a career high 10 points to go with six rebounds and three blocks. Two of his second half blocks turned directly into Terrapin points, Maryland earning an 18-10 edge in fastbreak baskets. The Terps had a season-high 10 blocked shots, three also by Damonte Dodd.
The points in the paint were even more overwhelming, Maryland rolling up a 66-30 advantage, again often on driving lay-ups breaking away from pressure.
“Whoever was catching it on the wing, and it happened to be me a lot tonight, was running the lane,” said Wiley. “Coach Turgeon told me to be aggressive and attack the press and finish. In the first half he sat me down and told me to calm down, but be more aggressive.”
Maryland looked much more comfortable in the team’s second outing without Wells, out for four weeks with a broken wrist. It was a much-needed offensive uptick with defense-minded Virginia, the nation’s 8th-ranked team coming in Wednesday for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Now there’s a question about Smotrycz, who played just eight minutes before – in Turgeon’s words – “tweaking” his broken foot. The pace of play also wasn’t in favor of Dodd (four points, five rebounds) and Jon Graham, who had two rebounds in just seven minutes. Cekovsky got 23 minutes, his third straight game over 20, but he injured his left ankle early in the second half though he did return later.
“Ceko, I thought had his best game since he has been here,” said Turgeon.
Through an emotional week – winning the CBE Classic and then learning Wells was lost for a month, then playing listlessly against Monmouth Friday – the Terrapins have to ramp back up for Virginia. Turgeon said he was giving the team a day off Monday “because we need it,” both physically and mentally.
The Terrapins piled up the points but needed the defense to turn the tide in a tough ballgame against the scrappy Keydets before a subdued crowd of 8,896. A subtle defensive change helped Maryland open up a working margin in the second half. The Terrapins adjusted to switch more off screens, and Turgeon moved the angular Jared Nickens over onto 6-0 QJ Peterson, VMI’s catalyst.
The Terrapins held the Keydets without a field foal for four minutes and 25 seconds, and allowed VMI just 33.3 percent (13-of-39) shooting in the second half. VMI had fired in 45.9 percent in the first half.
Meanwhile Maryland went on a 13-0 spree, the first six of those by Wiley, who had made his first start. Cekovsky got in on the act with a stickback, Pack scored in transition after a Cekovsky blocked shot and Layman nailed a 3-pointer off the break to make it 68-53 at 12:08, Maryland’s biggest lead to that point.
Craig Hinton finally ended the Keydets’ drought with a lay-up at 11:13.
Maryland pushed the lead to 77-59 at 8:10, Pack scoring inside on a stickback after the Terrapins again made VMI’s fullcourt press pay. Time and again, the Terps found Wiley one-on-one on the move against that press and the freshman came through, scoring 17 of his 19 points in the second half.
The Keydets couldn’t get the margin back down under 13 until the final 3½ minutes, but with their quick-strike capabilities – VMI hit 12 of a whopping 42 3-point attempts – Maryland could never get too comfortable.
“We struggled in the first half with our defense,” said Trimble, who didn’t miss a shot from the field, going 6-for-6, with two 3-pointers. “We weren’t really paying attention to the details like the shooters and the drivers. We let down on defense but our offense (was) clicking so we just had to get stops.”
When VMI finally did close to 11 points, Layman answered with an old-fashioned three-point play at 2:56 to make it 89-75.
Layman finished 5-of-11 from the field after a 1-for-6 start. He was 8-of-11 from the line and had a game-high nine rebounds. Pack had seven rebounds and three assists, hitting 10-of-14 shots from the field. Prior to this game, he had made 10 field goals all season.
Turgeon said Pack followed the game plan perfectly. “One of our emphases was ‘good to great’; good shots to a great shot, don’t settle,” said the coach. “He followed that better than anyone tonight. It was really good to see him get going. He had some nice finishes, too, some of those shots weren’t very easy.”
The Keydets had opened the second half much the way they finished the first. Julian Eleby’s 3-pointer at 17:18 pulled VMI within 51-50, but the Terps got a Layman lay-up and then Wiley scored on a press-break to make it a five-point lead at 16:23. Tim Marshall hit his second 3-pointer to make it 55-53, but Maryland was about to pull rank on VMI on the defensive end.
Hinton led VMI with 23 points, hitting 8-of-9 shots, including 6-for-6 beyond the arc. Peterson had 18 points but had to take 17 shots, hitting seven. Marshall chipped in 14, but also needed 17 shots.
“We might not be the best defensive team in the country but we are pretty good,” said Turgeon. “We were going to win this game with our defense, we weren’t going to win it with our offense. Defending and rebounding is what we talk about all the time.”
Baucom said the adjustment Maryland made defending the 3-point line (VMI was 8-for-22 the first half and just 4-of-20 the second half) was the difference. “Some of the looks we got in the first half, we didn’t get in the second half,” he said. “They held us to our lowest three-point percentage all year (28.6 percent).”
But the Terrapins had struggled to a 49-45 halftime lead. They had to shoot 18-of-36 from the field to do that, and overcome a couple of VMI leads, the first at 3:32, when Phillip Anglade drove in and dunked to make it 37-36.
Trimble came right back and hit a three, but then the Keydets’ Marshall knocked down a triple to make it 40-39, and then two Peterson free throws gave VMI a three-point lead.
Pack, who had 16 points in the first half (his first double-figure scoring game for Maryland), ran off the next eight points to put Maryland back in front. He had a three-point play to tie the score at 1:58, and then a lay-up in transition off a long Trimble feed to make it 44-42 at 1:41.
Pack added another drive and then hit one of two free throws to make it 47-42, Maryland’s biggest lead since midway through the first half. But Hinton hit a three, one of eight (in 22 attempts) by VMI in the first half.
Peterson missed the front end of a one-and-one that could have tied it back up and Layman hit two free throws with four seconds remaining in the half.
Trimble had 14 points and two assists in the fast-paced half, and Cekovsky already had a career-high eight points by the break.
The Terrapins had led 10-2 in the first three minutes. Wiley opened the scoring with a drive, and Pack had a baseline drive. Trimble hit four free throws and the lead reached eight when Pack scored backdoor from Smotrycz, who had three assists in those eight minutes before reinjuring his foot.
But VMI started to warm up, and eased the Terrapins into a faster pace then Maryland should have been playing. When Jordan Weethee hit a 3-pointer at 12:28, the Keydets closed to 18-17 at the end of a 15-8 run.
Marshall tied the game at 26-26, with a 3-pointer at 8:19.
Pack Paces Victory over VMI
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