COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon has been in Assembly Hall, the landmark arena that houses Indiana’s University's basketball teams, just once before. Back when Turgeon was a 22-year-old graduate assistant at Kansas, he asked then-coach Roy Williams if he could attend an offseason basketball clinic hosted by former Hoosiers Hall of Fame coach Bobby Knight, to which the Jayhawks’ headman readily agreed.
So, an eager Turgeon and another Kansas assistant made the drive to Bloomington, Ind., stationed themselves in the Assembly Hall stands, and watched as the combative Knight ran through a series of drills, many of which the current Terps’ coach still uses today.
“I’ve actually got a great story [about the clinic],” said a smiling Turgeon at the Jan. 21 media session, a day before No. 13 Maryland (17-2, 5-1 Big Ten) traveled to Bloomington to take on the 23rd-ranked Hoosiers (14-4, 4-1) in a 9 p.m. bout. “But, I’m not going to tell it.”
Well, of course you are, Mark.
When presented with such a nugget, we in the media aren’t about to let you off that easily.
“OK, well [Indiana] had a guy named [Matt] Nover, and they ran the motion offense and [Nover] is just standing around,” Turgeon explained. “So [Knight] goes up to him and says, ‘Do you know what a statue is Nover?’ And [Nover] said, ‘Yes sir, it’s a stationary object.’ And Knight said, ‘Do you know what pigeons do to statues?’ [awkward pause] ‘Nover, get your butt moving! (laughs).’ … That was a long time ago.”
Yes, the early ‘90s was quite some time ago, but Assembly Hall, which opened in 1971, is still there, even though Knight is not (at least, not in person. Some in Bloomington would argue his booming voice still pervades throughout the arena).
“When you think about the Big Ten, you think about Indiana and Assembly Hall. It’s a historic place and we’re excited to play there for our first time,” said Terps junior forward Jake Layman, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week after posting back-to-back double-doubles against Rutgers and Michigan State. “But for the team, we’re thinking of it like it’s just another road game. We have to go in with that mindset, that we’re going there to win.”
Indeed, most of the current Terps really don’t give a hoot about the banners hanging from the rafters, or the name on the side of the building. Freshman point guard Melo Trimble -- who called Indiana’s candy striped basketball shorts “kind of goofy looking, but I like [the style]” -- admitted he didn’t even know the Hoosiers played in a renowned gym, mentioning the only arena he ever heard much about growing up was Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
And senior forward Jon Graham, one of only two current Terps (along with Evan Smotrycz) to ever play in Bloomington? Well, Graham had somewhat of a Freudian Slip Jan. 21, mistaking Assembly Hall for another venue altogether.
“Well, you know, Freemont has a lot of history to it, much like our program had with Cole Field House. What Cole was to us, Freemont is to them,” Graham said. “It’s a very historic complex. It should be a great atmosphere.”
Insert long, pregnant pause
Reporter: “It’s Assembly Hall.”
Graham: “Oh … sorry (laughs).”
Graham’s mix-up wasn’t meant as a slight, but fact of the matter is, like Layman asserted, these current Terps are more focused on knocking off the modern day Hoosiers than concerning themselves with the Ghosts of Bloomington Past.
As well they should, because Indiana is certainly not a pushover. Head coach Tom Crean has the Hoosiers on a three-game winning streak with home victories over No. 22 Ohio State and Penn State and a third win at Illinois.
“All road games are hard. There’s a reason we went to play at Oklahoma State -- you get used to games on the road. But the [IU] students are back, it’s a passionate fan base and they just got ranked for the first time in a couple years,” Turgeon said. “It’s going to be a big-time environment, which is fun. As coaches and players you look forward to that.
“Talking to my guys the last couple days, they know this is a big game, a fun game. All road games are hard, but this one has a little added meaning with them being 4-1 and us being 5-1. It’s still early, but our guys respect their players.”
Especially their guards. Indiana boasts one of the most potent backcourts in the country with junior point Yogi Ferrell (14.9 points per game, 5.0 assists per game), James Blackmon (16.6 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game) and Robert Johnson (9.7 points per game, 2.7 assists per game), to go along with forward Troy Williams (13.4 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game), who actually plays like a guard.
And with Ferrell running the show, the Hoosiers would love to push the tempo all 40 minutes. They push both after opponents’ missed buckets, and they push after made ones too.
There’s a reason IU is scoring 81.6 points per game, the 11th highest average in Division I basketball, and it has as much to do with the Hoosiers’ shooting prowess (39.1 percent from deep, 33rd best nationally) as it does their ability to out-hustle foes on both ends.
“We’ll be challenged; [running in transition is] probably what [IU] does the best,” Turgeon said. “Michigan State really runs, but my assistants think Indiana runs harder and more consistently. You saw how hard MSU ran the ball [Jan. 17], so playing them and Indiana back to back helps -- we’ve had time to prepare.”
One of Turgeon’s sore points earlier this year was Maryland’s (lack of) transition defense. He continuously lamented the amount of easy buckets UMD surrendered to mid-major squads that had no business beating the deeper, more athletic Terps down the floor.
“We definitely have come a long way since the beginning of the season,” Graham said. “Like a lot of teams, Indiana definitely wants to get out [in transition], but we’ve improved on that and we want to continue to get better.
“But makes and misses, you have to sprint back as hard as you can. And you have to talk, and you have to communicate to find out where the shooters are, because [the Hoosiers] want to shoot 3s. You have to find out where they are and just man up.”
Blackmon is Indiana’s most potent deep threat, shooting 41.5 percent from long range, and Johnson is second best (40 percent), but it’s Ferrell who sets the pair up and gets the rest of the offense in gear. Moreover, the wily junior can drop a dime, slash to the hoop, and step out to knock down a 3. He’s shooting 42 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from distance, nailing many a transition triple throughout his career.
It will be up to the freshman Trimble, who was game against Michigan State Jan. 17, stifling Spartans potent point guard Travis Trice, to guard Ferrell.
“Yogi gets to the basket very well and he’s really strong. A lot of guards I’ve played against are strong, but not as strong as Yogi,” Trimble said. “I’ve seen him on TV, his build, I can tell he’s a strong guard, and he’s also quick.
“So I have to find my distance, pick one area, and just be solid. Don’t pick up quick fouls.”
In the half court, Indiana flashes four- and sometimes even five-guard looks. Turgeon said his team has the athleticism, speed and length to match up with the Hoosiers, though he noted IU can “really spread you out.”
“We know they have a lot of shooters,” Layman said. “So that’s definitely going to be our main focus.”
Defensively, though, Indiana has had some issues this year. IU is surrendering almost 72 points per game, and has had difficulties locking down the perimeter, stymying the fast break, and defending the low post. Since the Hoosiers lack length, they have struggled against teams with long, agile brutes, who can bang in the paint.
So, expect to see plenty of Layman, Graham, Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky during the 9 p.m. affair.
“They play some zone, they press a little bit, but I think we’ll have an advantage [inside],” Layman said. “I think they’ll have a hard time guarding us. We’re going to try to pound it inside and definitely try to take advantage of our size advantage.”
Said Graham: “We want to get to the rim as much as we can, get offensive rebounds, just do what we do.”
“Doing what we do” will be easier said than done in front of a raucous Assembly Hall crowd. Even Turgeon suggested that while he wanted his team to play “their game,” he’d have to see if they could accomplish that “in that kind of atmosphere.”
Maryland, though, has handled road games fairly well this year, going 5-1 away from the Xfinity Center, including 2-0 in neutral site matchups.
“It’s exciting. Playing away, it helps bring us together,” Trimble said. “And to go out there and win, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
The one loss on UMD’s road-game resume came at Illinois, a team Indiana just defeated -- in Champaign at that.
That might be disconcerting to Terps fans, but the Maryland players said not to put too much stock into it.
“In that [Illinois] game, we just didn’t come ready to play, and I’m sure it won’t happen again,” Layman said. “That game was good for us [to learn from].”
Maybe so, but chances are Maryland will suffer through another bump or two during the final dozen games of the regular season. Following Indiana, they have difficult road matchups at Ohio State and Iowa, and home games against Wisconsin, Michigan and IU again. Facing Penn State, Rutgers and Nebraska away from College Park doesn’t figure to be child's play, either.
“We have a tough stretch coming up, so we have to stay focused these next couple weeks, because it’s not going to get any easier,” Layman said. “We’re definitely trying to play for a ring this year – that’s our main focus right now.”
Terps Unfazed By IU's Historic Assembly Hall
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