Five Takeaways from UMD-UConn

The No. 6 Terps knocked off Connecticut, 76-66, at Madison Square Garden Dec. 8. Here are five takeaways from Maryland’s latest victory:

The No. 6 Terps knocked off Connecticut, 76-66, at Madison Square Garden Dec. 8. Here are five takeaways from Maryland’s latest victory:

Diamond Steps Up In The Big Apple

Maryland freshman center Diamond Stone had shone flashes of busting out during prior bouts, but he hadn’t put together an entire half like he did against UConn – and on a national stage at that. Working against noted Huskies’ rim protector Amida Brimah, a 7-foot defensive stalwart, Stone muscled up and scored 12 first-half points, including three dunks, a jumper and four free throws. He also corralled six rebounds in the first 20 minutes, four of the offensive variety.

Stone, whose footwork had been a bit awkward at times, looked smooth around the rim, displaying a nifty step-in and back-to-the-basket move. He readily challenged Brimah and didn’t shy away even after the UConn big man blocked him twice during the game’s first two minutes. Then, Stone showed off a soft touch at the line (4-of-5 free throws) and on a short face-up jumper. If he continues connecting on the latter, it will add another dimension defenses have to respect.  (Stone did leave several buckets on the floor, however, missing several easy looks.)

Moreover, Stone played perhaps his best defense all season, holding Brimah to two first-half points. Stone worked to front his man, denied interior passing lanes, boxed out after shots went up and was active on the glass. He didn’t record a block, but Stone altered a couple jumpers and forced several contested looks.

Previously, Stone’s defense had been shaky, to the point where he became a liability at times. So the Dec. 8 game represented his greatest overall stride and area of marked improvement.

Granted, Stone did tire, noticeably, during the second half, reverting to form. He allowed a couple easy buckets inside (failed to slide his feet) and wasn’t nearly as effective rebounding either. But Stone’s 16 point, nine-rebound line is something to build off of for sure, the freshman maybe hitting his stride with Big Ten play looking.

An Ivan Bender Sighting

For the second straight game, 6-foot-9 forward Ivan Bender saw some court time. The freshman didn’t throw down two dunks and corral six boards like he did against St. Francis (Pa.), but in six first-half minutes he held his own against high-major competition in a raucous environment.

Deceptively athletic, Bender stepped out to defend mid-range jumpers, his length and wingspan making it difficult for the Huskies to get off a clean shot. He also played physical down low by grabbing two rebounds.

Moreover, his court awareness and passing were on-point too, the forward moving the ball back out when he received a touch inside, while also promptly finding the outlet after a rebound.

Bender did not attempt a field goal Dec. 8, but he’s quick enough, deft enough and physical enough to convert around the rim  -- or maybe even out to 15 feet-plus.

If Bender continues to improve, he could easily push starting forward/center Damonte Dodd for time and work his way into the rotation each night. The Terps already have more size than most foes; Bender's presence just adds more length and depth to a potentially dominant frontcourt. 

Defense & Rebounding

A primary area of concern for head coach Mark Turgeon for much of 2015-16, the Terps locked down defensively and owned the glass for all but a few tense minutes during the latter 20 minutes Dec. 8. Maryland, with a distinct overall size advantage, held the Huskies to 41.7 percent shooting, including 30 percent during the first half, and out-boarded UConn 45-24. The Terps allowed just six second-chance points, mostly limiting UConn to one shot.

Forward Robert Carter owned the glass, grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds, while Diamond Stone chipped in nine and Michal Cekovsky six. In general, the Terps showed more gumption and want-to on the glass than in previous games, going after wayward shots with authority. Witness Ivan Bender, for example, who intensely ripped down a pair of boards in traffic, or Carter, who knifed into the lane and out-physicaled UConn at the rim.

Maryland was also more effective guarding the perimeter, limiting guard-oriented UConn to one first-half triple and seven overall. Notice how Turgeon switched up the defensive rotations and, at times, gave Melo Trimble and Jake Layman -- who have both had some issues hedging and limiting dribble-drives this year -- extra help.

The Terps cut off the Huskies’ primary offense, which is predicated on driving the lane, kicking the ball out and moving it around to an open shooter. UConn saw few open looks until UMD’s defense sagged during the second half (the rotations weren’t as effective and the Maryland defenders were a step slow getting out on the Huskies’ shooters). Sure, the Huskies’ shot selection could have been better, but credit the Terps for forcing low-percentage jumpers.

Trimble, Sulaimon Control The Tempo

Melo Trimble’s heroics and Rasheed Sulaimon’s clutch shooting have been detailed at length this season, and the backcourt duo came through once again Dec. 8. An intense, determined Trimble racked up 25 points, 14 of which came at the free-throw line, a result of his signature driving prowess. Sulaimon, meanwhile, stunted UConn’s late charge with a pair of momentum-killing layups.

But don’t let the scoring overshadow how well the pair ran the Maryland offense Dec. 8. Two of UMD’s primary keys heading into the Huskies’ bout  were controlling the tempo and protecting the ball. Maryland accomplished both -- and did so readily.

The Terps, who turned the ball over more than 30 times during their loss at North Carolina, had just 15 against UConn, while Trimble orchestrated an “unselfish” pace. Maryland ran when it could, but the Terps didn’t engage the quick, athletic Huskies in a track meet. Trimble kept the offense under control and, along with Sulaimon, facilitated the ball to their teammates. 

The sophomore point had only three assists and the senior two-guard just a single dime, but both worked the ball inside and used the dribble-drive-and-kick to find open teammates. All four of Maryland’s big men, in addition to Robert Carter, received plenty of touches courtesy of the UMD backcourt, the Terps exploiting their size advantage inside.

Overall, the Terps didn’t have their shooting night (see: Jake Layman’s 0-for-3 from beyond the arc), but considering the opponent and the environment, 45.5-percent from the field wasn’t bad at all. That said, they'd probably like to hit on a few more threes, Maryland missing all four second-half attempts and connecting on 21 percent for the game.

Terps Play With Intensity, Passion

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his team self-criticized after the first six games, lamenting sluggish starts and “playing down to the competition.” Mid-majors, and even a low-major, stayed with the Terps for much of initial frames before fading late and succumbing.

But the Terrapins began to bust out of their shell (no pun intended) during the loss at North Carolina, matching the Tar Heels’ energy for most of the game. Maryland made numerous “aggressive” mistakes that led to its demise, but afterwards Turgeon lauded the squad’s overall effort.

It continued two days later, even though the Terps were on short rest following an “unfortunate” five-hour bus ride back from Chapel Hill, N.C. UMD could have easily let down against St. Francis (Pa.), but the Terps ran rampant over the Red Flash, never allowing their opponent to make even a single run.

The Terps maintained their newfound energy, taking it right into Madison Square Garden Dec. 8 against UConn. Maryland came out firing and built up a 16-point, leaving the mostly pro-Huskies crowd shell-shocked (again, no pun intended). Then, when Connecticut staged a comeback, Maryland’s foremost leaders, namely Melo Trimble, stepped up and staved off the run.

If Maryland can keep playing with the kind of passion it did Dec. 8 and the two games prior, it figures to be in good shape heading into the Big Ten schedule.

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