Terps Ready For Relentless WVU Pressure

COLUMBUS, Ohio – After averting the fates of Iowa State, Baylor and Providence by holding off Valparaiso’s upset bid March 20, the No. 4 seed Terps (28-6, 14-4 Big Ten) remain alive in their first NCAA tournament since 2010. Next up, a bout with No. 5 seed West Virginia March 22 at 8:40 p.m. in Nationwide Arena, the winner of which will face Kentucky March 26 in Dayton, Ohio.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – After averting the fates of Iowa State, Baylor and Providence by holding off Valparaiso’s upset bid March 20, the No. 4 seed Terps (28-6, 14-4 Big Ten) remain alive in their first NCAA tournament since 2010. Next up, a bout with No. 5 seed West Virginia March 22 at 8:40 p.m. in Nationwide Arena, the winner of which will face Kentucky March 26 in Dayton, Ohio.

Obviously, as the tournament moves into the round of 32, the stakes are raised and the pressure has ratcheted up a few notches.

Quite literally.

West Virginia brings more pressure than any team in the country, turning teams over at a dizzying rate.

“They're a great team,” Terps senior Dez Wells said. “So we just have to prepare for them and be ready for whatever they throw at us. But they like to play high octane and like to force turnovers. So I think we've done a great job of taking care of the ball in those kind of situations. But I'm ready for the challenge.”

Head coach Mark Turgeon chimed in on WVU’s signature pressure-“D” as well.

“West Virginia plays a style that we haven't seen all year…. There's different ways to prepare for pressure. And whether you attack, whether you -- you gotta play with poise,” Turgeon said. “But I think it will take us a while to get used to the pressure and the speed of the game. And hopefully we'll adapt quickly to it.

“And then it comes down to the decision-making, being tough, being strong with the ball and all tihat. They're relentless, like no team I've seen in a long time, as far as constant pressure, pressure on the ball. Doubling the ball type thing. So it's a unique style. It's worked really well for them this year, obviously.”

There’s been several things working well for Maryland this year too – and a few more cropped up March 20. The Terps received contributions from a variety of different sources against Valpo, including freshman Jared Nickens (four 3-pointers), sophomore Damonte Dodd (eight points, four blocks), freshman Michal Cekovsky (good defense, rim protector) and Dion Wiley (big 3-pointer).

But the bulwark of the work moving forward still figures to fall on Dez Wells’ and Melo Trimble’s shoulders. Both the senior wing and freshman point guard scored 14 points apiece against Valparaiso, with Trimble adding 10 rebounds for a double-double.

While each leads the team in scoring at 16.3 points per game and 15.3 point per, respectively, it’s their ability to maintain poise in crunch time that’s impressed opposing coaches.

“Dez is probably as good a penetrator as there is in the country. I mean, he does a great job getting the ball to the basket and attacking the rim and putting a lot of pressure on the rim,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “And I think Melo is terrific in transition. I think that's where he really excels is transition, and getting the game to go at the pace that Turge [Mark Turgeon] wants it to go. He's unflappable.

“[But] I don't think you can key on any one guy. Obviously they bring different things to the table.”

That includes junior Jake Layman, who pulled a disappearing act against Valpo. In 25 minutes, Layman missed his only field-goal attempt and ended up with four foul shots, five rebounds and five fouls.

In the Terps’ last two postseason games, against the Crusaders and Michigan State, Layman has scored a total of 10 points on 1-of-4 shooting.

“We let Jake be who he is on the court. That's what has allowed him to elevate his game at times and stuff, but we just tell Jake to be who he is, each and every day and each and every practice, and every time he steps on the court to compete with us,” Wells said. “I hadn't realize he didn't take a shot until the second half. I remember the shot, they called a charge on him or something like that. Jake is confident. He'll be back. He'll be ready to play tomorrow. So we're not worried about that at all.”

Huggins isn’t sleeping on Layman either. He respects what the forward can do when he finds his rhythm.

“He can shoot it and he can bounce it. If you can shoot it and bounce it, you're going to be a pretty good offensive player,” Huggins said. “And he does a great job of they run some clear-outs for him where he can attack the rim. But he's a guy you can't leave open because he makes shots. We can't leave them open. But that kind of goes without saying.”

Aside from leaving the Terps open, WVU will have to account for Maryland’s frontcourt, which had an epiphany of sorts against Valpo. Freshman Michal Cekovsky didn’t score, but his length affected the Crusaders’ ability to drive and score around the rim. Meanwhile, Damonte Dodd played his best game in awhile, protecting the rim, producing a couple put-backs and scoring inside.

His improved play did not go unnoticed.

“He was good [against Valpo],” Turgeon said. “And I think if you've been watching Damonte really almost every game down here at the stretch he's improved and gotten better and playing with more confidence. Last night he helped us offensively too, got some putbacks and things around the rim. So good to see. It really would be nice if he wasn't in foul trouble for a game.”

Nice, yes, but it’s probably not going to happen against WVU.

The Terps will be matching up against a deep, high-energy foe in the fifth-seeded Mountaineers (24-9, 11-7 Big 12), which just knocked off Buffalo thanks to WVU sophomore guard Tarik Phillips’ last-second heave that kept the Bulls at bay, 68-62 (“the only one who wanted Tarik to take the shot was Tarik,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said after the game).

The defensive-minded Phillips (3.8 points per game) may have been the hero, but fact is West Virginia did not play its best basketball March 20. The Mountaineers turned the ball over a dozen times, allowed the Bulls to shoot 45.5 percent from the floor and committed 25 fouls, with starting forward Jonathan Holton fouling out after just nine minutes of action.

But WVU did force 17 turnovers with its pressure defense, while the Mountaineers connected on 45 percent of their shots too, besting their season average by three percent.

“We've been through that [struggles during games] through the whole season. We've been having the whole game in the first half and then the second half we have a couple of turnovers or we made some silly fouls, and they [the opponent] comes back in the game,” WVU senior guard Gary Browne said. “But one thing we've been doing a great job this year is keep fighting back. We fought back like we did [March 20]. And, yeah, we had a couple of turnovers, but we didn't lose our focus, and we fought. And we finished it.”

Just as important for WVU is it saw its dynamic backcourt return to form. Both starting point guard Juwan Staten and the senior two-guard Gary Browne had missed the Mountaineers’ last few games with a knee injury and an ankle sprain, respectively. But both saw extended minutes March 20 and showed no signs of being hobbled, the former scoring 14 points and handing out seven assists, and the latter dropping in five points and dishing a trio of assists.

WVU had lost three of its last four games without Staten, and it goes without saying the Mountaineers need him to be successful. Not only does he lead the squad at 14.5 points per game, but he’s the top assist man (almost four a night) and a deadly 3-point marksman (35.8 percent) too.

“He's a tough point guard, can score at all angles,” Trimble said of Staten. “He has a nice pull-up. He's quick and explosive, kind of like myself. He's a veteran guard. He's been in college for four years. So he's a great player.”

Besides Staten, West Virginia has about 10 other contributors, making it the deepest team the Terps have seen all year. All 11 mainstay Mountaineers average at least 12 minutes a night, constantly rotating through in order to stay fresh.

“We can get everybody in and our five probably not better than most of people's five, but our 10 is probably better than most people's 10,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “If we can play 10, 11, 12 guys, a lot of times that should be an advantage for us. So that's kind of what we sell. I had the great fortune of spending a lot of time around Jerry Tarkanian. And Tark said, he told his guys, when he had Larry Johnson, he said: Listen, you're all going to get a piece of pie. But there's just one pie. Pie being playing time. There's just one pie. And we're going to split that pie up.”

Most of said rotatees reside in the backcourt, the strength of a WVU squad that can put up 78 points per game, but has had accuracy issues from the field (41 percent) and from the free-throw line (66 percent).

Along with Staten is the sticky-fingered Jevon Carter, who averages only 8.4 points per game, but has canned a team-best 47 3-pointers and racks up almost two steals a night (he had two against Buffalo).

The rest of the guards can all shoot the 3 ball at a much higher rate than Carter (32 percent), though, which means Maryland better shore up its perimeter defense after allowing Valparaiso to knock down trey after trey March 20.

Gary Browne picks up about seven points per game and shoots 37 percent from range, while freshman Daxter Miles is scoring 7.4 points and hitting 36 percent of his 3s. The team’s best downtown marksman, though, is Jaysean Paige, who is dialed in to the tune of 39 percent, typically connecting on a clutch triple or two each night coming off the bench.

WVU isn’t particularly big down low, but it does boast a dynamic sophomore forward in Devin Williams, who dropped 17 points on Buffalo. Williams shoots a team-high 46 percent from the field and scores 11.5 points per game, although his true value is in his rebounding (8.2 per game). The aforementioned Jonathan Holton teams with Staten in the frontcourt, averaging 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, to go along with a team-high 29 blocks.

“I think Staten's capable of having a big game. If you look, Jevon Carter has had big games. For that matter, Jaysean Paige has had big games. Jaysean gets 18 against Baylor. … And I think that's what makes us hard to prepare for, because I don't -- if I don't know who is going to score, I doubt very seriously if the other coach knows who is going to score,” Huggins said. “I think Devin can be a little more consistent than some of those guys because he's such a terrific offensive rebounder, and he scores some goals off the offensive glass, which kind of gives him a little bit more of an advantage in terms of being a little more consistent scoring the ball.:

But, really, it’s the defense that makes the Mountaineers tick. Employing a relentless 1-3-1 trapping zone, WVU gets after it from end to end, forcing turnovers galore. In fact, West Virginia is ranked No. 1 in the nation with 10.8 steals per game, a full swipe more than the next closest team.

“Just going out and playing with confidence, and not worrying about our mistakes and playing basketball. We had teams press against us before, the whole game, just like West Virginia, but not as aggressive,” Trimble said of dealing with the WVU press. “Just going out there playing with confidence and we should be able to do fine.”

Carter leads the way in that steals category, while five other Mountaineers average about one steal per bout, including Holton; Miles; Browne; Paige; and Phillips, he of the game-winning triple. The point guard Staten, meanwhile, averages just a tick below one swipe a night.

Add it all up, and WVU has taken the ball away 357 times this year, 168 more than their foes.

“I think this is a way that we all enjoy playing,” Staten said of WVU’s pressure defense. “We're playing fast. We're turning people over. We're trying to get out in transition. And ultimately we have a great coach and we trust him and we believe in him. “

Said Browne: “It's hard to play when somebody's in your face 24/7. No one's like that. So I bet no one likes playing us, and that's good for us.”

If a team can beat the press, though, WVU tends to slack when defending jump shooters. The Mountaineers allow opponents to connect on 47 percent from the field and 37 percent from deep, making them the 285th ranked 3-point defense in the nation.

“I think they [the Mountaineers] like to play at a -- like a frenetic pace, but we're used to that. Like we like to run. The challenge for us would be to recognize when we have an advantage when we break their press,” Wells said. “So if we don't have numbers or we don't have an advantage against their defense after we break the press, then to bring the ball back out and get it set up for a good play. Just taking care of the ball.

“But from what I saw they press back into a zone. So trying to figure out the key to breaking that zone and their press will be essential for us. So it's going to be a great challenge on either end. But if we can control our turnovers and control the tempo of the game, then I think we have a good chance of winning.”


NOTE: The Terps and WVU had two common opponents this year. The Mountaineers played Iowa State, a team UMD defeated, twice this season and ended up dropping both the home and road bouts. WVU also took on Oklahoma State, winning that matchup, a feat the Terps pulled off against the Cowboys as well.


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