After squeaking by Illinois State in the first round of the Cancun Challenge, the Terps turned it up a few notches Nov. 25 in an 86-63 dismantling of Rhode Island to take the title. Here are observations from the game:
Point Guards Wake Up
A day after a subpar performance from Maryland’s floor generals, complete with turnovers, sloppy passing and shaky defense, the likes of Melo Trimble and backup point guard Jaylen Brantley put forth their best collective effort all season.
Against Illinois State, Trimble missed all of his 3-point attempts, turned the ball over four times and let the Redbirds’ point guard take him to task. But Nov. 25, UMD’s lead guard basically controlled the tempo throughout. He broke down the defense off the dribble, effectively using picks to knife through the lane and convert at the rim.
When he wasn’t scoring himself, he was moving the ball inside and out and around the perimeter, finding Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter for open looks. Trimble pushed the tempo in transition too, wearing down the defense and keeping the Rams from setting up.
Perhaps most heartening, however, was Trimble’s effort defensively. Quicker points have beaten Trimble on more than one occasion this season, but against Rhode Island he was borderline Rasheed Sulaimon-esque. Trimble recorded a game-high three steals, turning each into a transition bucket on the other end.
In 27 minutes, Trimble ended up with 17 points, four assists, six rebounds, three steals and just two turnovers.
Brantley’s effort was even more notable, mostly because the junior college transfer had yet to show he could hold his own up top. Trimble’s backup looked lost during his first three games, his passes lacking conviction; his ball-handling unreliable; and his defense sieve-like. But Brantley earned a season-high 16 minutes against Rhode Island and showed signs of at least being competent enough to spell Trimble.
While Brantley must continue developing a take-charge attitude, and learn how to play more efficient on-ball defense, he took a significant stride Nov. 25. He made smart court decisions, moved the ball around and led the fastbreak as well. In fact, he had two nifty feeds in transition, first hitting Robert Carter in stride for a layup and later finding a streaking Sulaimon for another deuce. Brantley did not turn the ball over either, while he recorded three rebounds.
The next step: Become more tenacious on defense and develop confidence in his shot (Brantley missed both of his field goal attempts; he seems hesitant to hoist the ball up).
Carter A Machine At Both Ends
Forward Robert Carter is the Terps’ most dynamic court presence, and against Rhode Island he filled up the stat sheet to the tune of 15 points, nine rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal. Carter did not just dominate the paint, either. He ran the floor like a guard, stepped outside to knock down a triple; and denied his man both in the lane and beyond the arc.
Granted, Carter did have five turnovers, a product of trying to do almost too much with the ball in his hands, but it’s clear he’s Maryland’s most potent threat. Carter’s back-to-the-basket moves were too much for Rhode Island’s defense to handle, the UMD forward routinely clearing space for an easy look. And when Carter didn’t convert, he boxed out and hit the offensive glass, coming up with a pair of putback buckets.
Even more impressive was how well Carter got up and down the floor. He was often leading the pack in transition, out in front of ball-handlers like Trimble; Sulaimon and Brantley. Early on, after a Kuran Iverson layup, Carter took a pass from Trimble and drained a top-of-the-key three before the Rams’ defense could pick him up.
Carter even played the role of facilitator, making the extra pass to find an open teammate who had a higher-percentage shot. During one sequence, Carter held the ball from about 18 feet out as the defense collapsed. Instead of firing up a jumper, he found Diamond Stone open underneath for a dunk. Later on, he passed up an open 15-footer in favor of a quick skip pass to Jake Layman, who drilled an open trey.
Defensively, Carter stymied Rhode Island’s Hassan Martin all game long, holding the bulky big to five points in 30 minutes and blocking him once. That said, Carter did rotate onto forward Kuran Iverson, who had 19 points and drained a couple triples with Carter in pursuit. But Carter also stuffed Iverson twice, denying him once from three and once on a layup attempt.
One area Carter, and his fellow bigs for that matter, had issues Nov. 25 was keeping Rhode Island off the offensive glass. The Rams ended up with 13 offensive rebounds, which shouldn’t happen against a Maryland squad that features Carter, Stone, Michal Cekovsky and Damonte Dodd.
Ball Movement, Spacing
During the Illinois State bout, there were stretches when the Maryland offensive sets consisted of Melo Trimble dribbling all over the place while his teammates stood statue-like. Twenty-four hours later, it was a 180 for the Terps’ attack, complete with crisp ball movement; floor spacing; and high-low/inside-out action.
Maryland ended up shooting 60 percent for the night and 59 percent from distance, both a direct result of the Terps’ passing prowess. UMD ended up with 15 assists, as opposed to 10 for Rhode Island.
On some half-court sets, Melo Trimble would drive the lane, draw the defense in and then feed an open teammate on the wing (see: Trimble to Rasheed Sulaimon at the 15:58 mark of the first half). At other times, the Terps would throw the ball down to Robert Carter, who, when double-teamed, kicked it back out for an uncontested corner trey (see: Carter to Jake Layman late during the first half).
Then there were times when the Terps’ backcourt would work the ball around, passing up an initial look for a better one two touches away (see: Sulaimon to Jared Nickens midway through the first half). And when the Rams’ defense sent two defenders after a potent Maryland three-point threat (read: Sulaimon), well, the Terps simply fed the open post (see: interior buckets from Carter, Stone, Cekovsky and Dodd).
Still A Ways To Go For Stone
While Stone’s final line -- 10 points, five rebounds, three blocks -- was solid, the freshman big man remains a work in progress. The 6-foot-11 center is still growing into his body and adjusting to his offseason weight loss, so it’s going to take time before he’s polished.
Right now, Stone has difficulties sliding his feet, sticking with his man and denying the rim. Moreover, developed, physical foes can box him out and out-muscle him for rebounds, as Rhode Island center Earl Watson did more than once Nov. 25.
But as Stone’s court awareness improves, and the more he gets uses to banging down on the blocks, he should eventually become a stout interior defender. The athleticism and size are there; he just needs to learn how to use/position his body.
On the offensive end, Stone’s hands and feet need to be more consistent. He was known for his soft hands and nimble footwork coming into Maryland, but he’s fumbled away a couple passes (three turnovers Nov. 25) and looked awkward at times when posting up.
The latter is likely a confidence/experience issue. The more floor time he sees, the better Stone should be. Even late during the Rhode Island game, Stone executed a nifty post move for a layup, showing flashes of his potential.
Sulaimon Dialed In
What more can be said about the senior transfer? Each night, he brings his “A” game, producing on both ends of the floor. The season is only four games old, but Sulaimon has already made a fairly convincing bid to assume the role occupied by Dez Wells last year. When the Terps aren’t clicking, or in need of a spark, Sulaimon has been the one righting the ship.
Against Rhode Island, Sulaimon connected on 4-of-5 three-pointers and ended up with 17 points. But his ability to knock down pressure-cooker jumpers has already been discussed extensively in previous columns.
And, really, Sulaimon’s work off the ball is equally impressive. In addition to his 17 points, he also dropped four dimes, helping to spur Maryland’s offensive fluidity. A heady, aware guard, Sulaimon recognized when UMD’s Jared Nickens entered the game, the veteran immediately looking to feed the sharpshooter. Sulaimon ended up finding Nickens with a pair of quick touch passes, which the Terps’ wing turned into two triples.
Meanwhile, Sulaimon hawked Rams’ guards Four McGlynn (six points) and Jarvis Garrett (4-of-14 shooting) all game long. Sulaimon doesn’t always come up with a steal, but his feisty, relentless style wears on opponents and often leads to poor decisions. On Nov. 25, McGlynn had three turnovers and Garrett had one.