COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Following Maryland’s 70-58 victory against Minnesota Jan. 3, wing Dez Wells sported a huge smile when a question about Damonte Dodd’s offensive game cropped up. See, Wells surmised, while Dodd’s nifty up-and-under, pair of putbacks and a flush certainly impressed, there was a play from earlier this season that resonated even more.
Wells couldn’t recall the opponent (it was Oklahoma State, a game the Terps won 73-64 in Stillwater, Okla.), but he remembered Dodd coming up with a steal at one end, streaking down the floor like Chris Paul, and then finishing with a rim-rattling dunk that sent the Maryland bench into bedlam.
“We’d never seen Damonte do that in a game before, so we’ve seen flashes,” said Wells, who finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists Jan. 3. “But [Dodd] is becoming a lot more comfortable in his own skin as a big man… When he works out, he works extremely hard. The level he’s playing at now, we saw it coming. It was only a matter of time.”
That dunk in Stillwater may have registered a greater “wow factor,” but a particular first-half sequence against Minnesota may have been Dodd’s signature stretch this campaign. Radiating intensity -- an intensity that burned through the entire Terps’ squad for all but one six-minute stretch at the end of the first half Jan. 3 -- Dodd ripped down a defensive rebound; fed point guard Melo Trimble in transition; out-muscled a Gophers’ defender on the offensive glass when Trimble missed a trey; kicked the ball out to Wells; snagged yet another offensive rebound after Wells misfired; and then finished with a layup underneath.
The bucket, part of a momentum-seizing 12-0 UMD run, put the Terps up 32-17 with 7:37 left.
“The crowd got into it, teammates got into it -- it was so exciting,” said Dodd, who finished with nine points (3-of-3 from the field), 12 rebounds (four offensive), two assists, three blocks and a steal. “It was pretty hard [to control myself]. At [halftime] I was pretty tired (laughs).
“But I was just trying to attack real hard. My offense was going so well, so I was trying to get some offensive boards. And defense, I play defense -- that’s what I do. I was trying to block out and get rebounds on the defensive end. I’m not really focused on offense in practice, because I know we have so many scorers. I mainly just focus on defense, and somehow my offense just always comes. Behind the scenes, we practice hard and focus on defense, and the offense just comes from somewhere.”
The Terps will take it. Although Dodd wants to be known for his grit, which he showed during the aforementioned series, he had a more, shall we say “aesthetically pleasing,” moment earlier during the game.
At the 11:13 mark, Dodd, with Minnesota thumper Maurice Walker hanging all over him, executed a Kevin Durant-esque (Dodd’s favorite player) up-and-under that opened the eyes of the 15,778 in attendance. Seven seconds later, Dodd came up with a big stuff on the defensive end, bringing the crowd to its feet.
“The fans, I think they always liked me, but they’re starting to like me more (laughs). It’s always fun to play in front of them,” said Dodd, who mentioned he has some huge fans back in Centreville, Md., right now as well, especially since the area rarely produces top-level hoops stars. “Their energy, they’re just so fun to play in front of. That’s what really just gave all of us our energy.”
Indeed, Maryland was all about energy for the majority of the Jan. 3 affair. Dodd stood at the forefront, but, really, every Terp who took the floor aided in the effort.
Jake Layman drilled a three-pointer right out of the gate to set the tone; Wells threw down a monstrous dunk less than a minute later; Melo Trimble sliced through the heart of the defense early in the second half, giving Maryland its momentum back; Richaud Pack, Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens all drained corner threes; and Layman twisted the dagger with a late triple that extended UMD’s lead to 66-46 with 2:55 remaining.
And that was just on the offensive end, where the Terps ended up shooting 42 percent. (They also turned the ball over 19 times, one glaring negative from the outing).
Defensively, Maryland held Minnesota (11-4, 0-2 Big Ten) to 33.8 percent from the field, out-boarded the Gophers 44-35, came up with seven steals and recorded nine blocks.
No, that’s not a typo -- nine blocks.
Three came courtesy of Dodd, while Layman and Wells had two each. Senior big Jon Graham, meanwhile, had a block and five rebounds in nine decisive second-half minutes.
"It's pretty simple -- we got beat by a Top 10 team on the road,” Minnesota coach Rick Pitino Jr. said. “This is one of the best teams in the country … [Maryland is] a great team, they’re well-coached and they play hard. They’re going to make a run. I can see it.”
If so, Dodd is going to have to continue producing like he has been recently. The Centreville native has made significant strides since the season’s outset and may be the most improved Terp from Game One to Game 15.
“[Dodd’s play] doesn’t surprise me because we’re seeing it in practice. You hear me say it all the time: If you see it in practice it eventually shows up in the game. He’s just playing with a whole lot of confidence, and the offense is just added … to what he gives us defensively every game,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “So I really don’t think it’s surprising, and it’s really great to see, because he waited his turn. So many people don’t in today’s world, but he waited his turn.”
It wasn’t all roses for Dodd, however. He did have some issues guarding Maurice Walker, who ended up scoring a team-high 20 points. Using his bulk and an array of deft paint moves, Walker schooled his UMD counterpart several times down the floor.
Dodd also picked up three quick fouls in the second half and ended up fouling out (for real this time).
“[Walker] is a good player and very strong, so it was hard holding my stance,” Dodd said. “But props to him – he’s a great player… He’s a really good big, solid, really strong. It was a pleasure to play against him.”
Numbers aside, Turgeon actually thought Dodd held his own down low.
“I know the kid Walker had 20 and 10 [rebounds], but I think [Dodd] did a nice job except for some silly fouls in the second half,” Turgeon said. “[Dodd] was one-on-one with [Walker] and we weren’t giving him a whole lot of help.”
Well, that’s not entirely true. When Dodd was mired in foul trouble, the Baltimore native Graham took the floor and ratcheted the already-intense Terps up another notch.
A gritty, grizzled veteran, Graham went toe-to-toe with Walker, fronting the Minnesota center while boxing out on the boards. Walker ended up scoring just eight points in the second 20 minutes.
“Jon brings us energy. Jon was fresh and ready to go in the second half, and I told him at halftime he was going to get in there,” Turgeon said. “Jon, his energy, his defense, rebounding in the second half -- it gave us a huge lift. That’s what Jon does – that’s his role and he enjoys playing that role.”
Dodd, for his part, said he looks up to the senior Graham. The sophomore mentioned how he tries to emulate the Calvert Hall (Towson, Md.) product’s work ethic and rugged play during practice.
The results are now coming to fruition.
“I call [Graham] my big brother. We’re so similar and we just play with so much energy,” Dodd said. “One time a shot went up and I was like, ‘I know Jon is going to come up with this rebound.’ And he came down with it. He just never quits; he has so much heart.”
Graham’s effort, along with Dodd’s, did not go unnoticed by their teammates either. Backcourt mainstays Trimble and Wells both lauded the Terps’ frontcourt after the game.
“We knew their big man [Walker] was a big presence down there, and [Dodd and Graham] matched his energy and played hard,” Trimble said. “It really helped us as guards, because we saw how hard they were playing and we wanted to play hard too.”
Wells, who had his share of stouthearted moments against the Gophers, agreed with the freshman point guard.
“[Graham and Dodd] are an essential part of our offense and defense. They did a real good job for us [Jan. 3],” Wells said. “And ‘Ceko’ [freshman big Michal Cekovsky] is coming along too. We’re in a good place right now with them and as a team.”
But, Wells added, the Terps are still nowhere near as good as they can, or will, be. That 13-0 Minnesota run late during the first half ate at his, and the team’s, craw, and was a main talking point following the contest.
Wells, Dodd, Trimble and Turgeon all said Maryland can’t have such lapses for the team to take the next step.
“We were so hyped because of the fans, and we thought it was going to be an easy win, so we slacked off on defense and thought our offense was going to win it for us,” Dodd said. “But then we realized we had to play more defense, and that’s what took us back up. Coach was just like, ‘Our offense is going to come. Just keep playing defense and blocking out.’ And that’s what we focused on.”
That’s for sure.
Minnesota shot just 22.6 percent in the second half, including 0-for-11 from three-point range. The Gophers were out-rebounded 25-19 and turned the ball over seven times during the latter frame.
And much of that was thanks to Dodd and Graham, who combined for 10 rebounds and a pair of blocks in the second half.
Now, the challenge is continuing to build as the Big Ten season moves along. The No. 12 Terps (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) have a pair of road games coming up at Indiana and Purdue, so they’ll have to produce their own energy sans Xfinity Center crowd.
Which, Dodd insisted, shouldn’t be a problem.
“Our confidence is at an all-time high right now. I don’t think people expected us to be doing as well as we are,” Dodd said. “So we just got to continue to build on this and keep getting better.”
Dodd, Graham, Terps Radiate Intensity
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