What We Learned After Michigan State

No. 12 Maryland (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten) outlasted Michigan State, 68-66, in double overtime Dec. 30 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich. Here are five observations from the Terps’ victory.

No. 12 Maryland (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten) outlasted Michigan State, 68-66, in double overtime Dec. 30 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich. Here are five observations from the Terps’ victory.

Defense, Rebounding & Plain Old Grit

Perhaps Richaud Pack’s rebound at the end of the second overtime Dec. 30 epitomized his team’s effort. With Maryland ahead 62-59 with 44 seconds left in the second overtime, the diminutive senior guard ripped away an offensive rebound in-between three Michigan State defenders, drawing a foul in the process. The ensuing two free throws all but sealed the deal on the 68-66 victory in enemy territory.

The Terps didn’t do much right offensively Dec. 30, but they once again got the job done defensively, while also stepping up in an area head coach Mark Turgeon had been harping on: rebounding.

Just take a look at these numbers: Michigan State had 14 points at halftime, shooting just 20.8 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from three-point range. And while the Spartans picked up the pace during the second half and overtime, they still managed only a 32.3 percent (21-of-65) clip from the field and a 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) performance from deep. On top of that, MSU was out-boarded 53-36, including 43-31 in regulation.

Now, some of that was just plain sloppiness on MSU’s part; the Spartans misfired on some open looks and were careless with the basketball (13 turnovers) at times as well. But much credit goes out to Maryland’s defense, both its pesky backcourt and rim protecting frontcourt.

Ironically, Pack did not have a standout outing defensively, as MSU guard Travis Trice scored the majority of his game-high 26 points while the Terps’ senior was on him. But freshman Melo Trimble switched onto Trice late and had one of his best defensive efforts of the year. Trice ended up misfiring on five straight shots in the two overtimes, and on four of them Trimble had a hand in his face.

Meanwhile, Dez Wells’ shaky offensive struggles perhaps overshadowed the work he did defensively (more on that in the next section). Wells ended up with two steals and seven rebounds, including six on the defensive end. He routinely out-muscled MSU in the lane, limiting the Spartans’ second-chance opportunities. Moreover, he actively switched on screens, fought through picks and put a hand up when Michigan State fired from deep.

Jake Layman struggled at times guarding Branden Dawson in the paint, but he made up for it by locking down the perimeter, coming up with a pair of steals and crashing the glass. MSU guard Denzel Valentine ended up shooting just 1-of-9 from the floor and turning the ball over three times, and much of that was due to Layman’s work. (On one occasion Layman stole the ball from Valentine early, and took it coast-to-coast for layup). Layman also ended up with a team-high nine rebounds, showing marked improvement boxing out.

In the frontcourt, sophomore forward Damonte Dodd was arguably the player of the game with his shot altering efforts in the latter frames (more on that in a section below). Dodd ended up with six rebounds and two blocks, though it’s hard to measure his performance via the box score. There were numerous times Dodd changed Dawson’s angle or forced MSU to look outside the paint for its points.

Fellow big man Jon Graham got in on the action as well. Although a bit reckless down low (he committed four fouls), Graham corralled five rebounds in limited action, throwing his weight around against Dawson, Gavin Shilling and Matt Costello.

With 1:29 left in the first overtime and the Terps behind 55-51, Graham cleared out and grabbed a huge rebound after a missed Costello jumper. He then proceeded to run the floor, take a pass from Dez Wells and convert a layup on the other end.

It was gritty plays like Graham’s that led Maryland to victory Dec. 30. It wasn’t necessarily aesthetically pleasing, but sometimes pure want-to is enough to overcome.

Wells Giveth, Wells Taketh Away

Was there a more polarizing Terps player Dec. 30 than wing Dez Wells? There was very little gray area with the senior slasher in his second game back from a broken wrist. At times, Wells looked like a Nick Faust-incarnate, jacking up contested shots, turning the ball over and failing to move the ball around the perimeter.

Yet, there he was canning an ice-in-the veins game-tying triple at the end of regulation with a hand in his face; there he was with a nifty pass to Jon Graham for a bucket, followed by a foul and two free throws to force double overtime; there he was with a give-and-go feed to Michal Cekovsky for a dunk; and there he was with a crowd-silencing monster jam in the second extra period before snagging a big rebound in traffic to help seal the victory.

If you’re the Terps and head coach Mark Turgeon, obviously you have to take a glass-half-full approach, praising the senior leader since he came up clutch. But if Maryland had lost, well, most of Terps nation would probably be singing a different tune altogether.

The fact of the matter is this: For the majority of the night, Wells was ineffective, especially offensively. He almost single-handedly sent Maryland’s motion “O” -- which had been thriving on spacing, ball movement and crisp cuts -- back to the dark ages circa 2013.

There were multiple occasions when Wells received the ball on the wing, and instead of making the extra pass, he looked to drive and create. Meanwhile, his teammates turned into pseudo-zombies, motionless as Wells slashed and burned his way to the hoop.

Take the first few minutes of the contest. With both teams struggling offensively and UMD ahead 9-4, Wells attempted to break down three Michigan State defenders in transition, forcing up a way-too-quick jumper as Richaud Pack, Jake Layman and Melo Trimble hung around the perimeter. Thirty seconds later, a fed up Mark Turgeon yanked Wells and three other starters and inserted an entirely new lineup.

Later in the game, with UMD ahead 32-31 with 7:39 left in regulation, Wells committed back-to-back egregious errors. First, he lost the ball while making a one-on-one move against a defender, and a couple possessions later he traveled while trying to go coast-to-coast for a layup.

Wells ended the bout with a game-high seven turnovers, which was double what any other player on the floor except Melo Trimble (four turnovers) had.

But for all his miscues, Wells turned it on when it counted. While the freshman Trimble took a panic three with time running out in the second half, Wells coolly drilled his trey. Then in the extra frames he stepped into passing lanes, harassed MSU guards Denzel Valentine (four points) and Bryn Forbes (nine points), and picked the pocket of Spartans lead guard Travis Trice. Wells drained a pair of free throws to knot the score at 55 with 26 seconds left in the first overtime, and played intense defense in the final five minutes as UMD slowly inched away.

His final numbers: 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting (5-of-6 from the line), seven rebounds, five assists, two steals, seven turnovers. Wells can be a game-changing playmaker, but he has to learn how to play within himself -- and the offense -- to be effective moving forward.

Dodd Keeps Impressing

It’s hard to call sophomore power forward Damonte Dodd an unsung hero when it was obvious how well he played defensively Dec. 30. Before fouling out in overtime, the 6-11 big man caused Michigan State all kinds of problems with his length around the rim. He only recorded two blocks and six rebounds, but Dodd basically stalemated Spartans forward Gavin Schilling (seven points) early before doing his best work on MSU stud big Branden Dawson late (nine points on 4-of-11 shooting).

In fact, it was Dodd’s play against the latter that highlighted the Centreville, Md., native’s evening. Entering the game, Turgeon had Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz on Dawson, and while the MSU forward took awhile to find his rhythm, he ended up scoring six points and securing a handful of offensive rebounds throughout the first 30 or so minutes. But during the latter stages of regulation, Turgeon switched Dodd onto Dawson, and he ended up with just one more field goal the rest of the way.

A telling sequence: With 2:06 left in the second half, Dodd stuffed Dawson at the rim and ripped away a rebound. Then, at the other end of the floor, he took a pass from Dez Wells and converted a jump hook over Matt Costello to give UMD a 44-43 lead. Later on, in the first overtime, Dodd recorded another key block, leading to a Melo Trimble transition three-pointer that put Maryland up 51-50.

Not to be forgotten was Dodd’s rebounding. He did a much better job boxing out against Michigan State and ended up securing four defensive boards, while only mishandling one or two.

Offensively, other than that nifty hook, Dodd still looked a bit raw at times (four points on 2-of-4 shooting), but Turgeon and Co. will undoubtedly take the improved “D” and glass work.

Trimble Up & Down

Freshman point guard Melo Trimble had an uneven performance in his first Big Ten game, but he still showed enough poise and moxie to aid Maryland’s efforts. His shot was off all night, he turned the ball over four times, and he missed layup after layup. But Trimble also settled the Terps down when Dez Wells was out of control; canned 12-of-14 free throws, many of them in crunch time; and played next-to-lockdown defense throughout (see the section above on Trimble’s play against Travis Trice).

Perhaps the most encouraging part of his night was after Trimble committed a couple crucial errors at inopportune moments, he remained unfazed. Two in particular stand out. At the end of regulation and the Terps trailing 47-45, Trimble threw up a wild three-pointer with 16 ticks remaining, allowing Michigan State a chance to seal the game. But after UMD forced overtime, Trimble calmly anchored the offense and ended up drilling his first and only triple of the night, giving Maryland a 51-50 advantage.

Then, in the second overtime, Trimble failed to step to an out-of-bounds pass from Dez Wells, allowing MSU’s Alvin Ellis to bolt in front and swipe the ball away. Ellis converted a layup to make the score 60-59 Terps with 1:48 to go. But rather than let the miscue haunt him, Trimble took control, drove right down the lane and drew a foul on Maryland’s next possession. He proceeded to knock down two free throws – his first of six in a row – to clinch the victory.

Trimble didn’t have a good shooting night, misfiring on seven of eight three-point attempts and 11 of 13 shots overall. He clanked open looks, contested looks and even gimme looks under the hoop. Some point guards would let that affect their entire night, negatively impacting their passing, defense and ball-handling. Trimble isn’t that type of point guard -- he defines poise.

Coming Up Clutch

At the end of the first half, Maryland had a total of zero free throws. That’s right -- nada, zilch, zippo. Maybe that wouldn’t be a total shock in years past, but this year’s Terps squad came into the Dec. 30 affair ranked 27th in the country in foul shooting at 74.5 percent, while averaging 18.7 made free throws per game (eighth best nationally).

In the second half and the overtime periods, however, Maryland reverted to form, making a concerted effort to draw fouls and get to the charity stripe. By the time it was all said and done, the Terps had knocked down 26-of-32 free throws (81.3 percent), including 13 of their last 14 attempts to seal the outcome. Michigan State, meanwhile, connected on just 67.9 percent (19-of-28) of its foul shots, a major reason the Spartans fell short.

Melo Trimble led the way with 12 made free throws on 14 attempts, while Richaud Pack was 6-for-6 and Dez Wells was 5-for-6. Trimble, as aforementioned, connected on all six of his foul shots at the end of the second overtime, while Pack nailed two crucial attempts with 25 seconds left as well.

Sometimes, your shot just isn't falling. Bad teams become frustrated and end up losing by double digits. Good teams persevere and figure out a way to score anyway, eking out close victories.

This season, so far, the Terps fall into the latter category.

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