COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Entering this season of giving, Maryland Eastern Shore gave 6th-ranked Maryland everything it wanted Dec. 12, the Terrapins gave the Hawks a different defensive look and Rasheed Sulaimon gave all his teammates stocking stuffers with a career high 10 assists.
The result was a 77-56 win for the Terrapins (9-1) in a matinee at Xfinity Center before what was announced as a sixth straight home sellout. The Terrapins struggled to get to their preferred tempo and ruffle the Hawks’ (1-9) feathers but finally pulled away for good to start the second half and claim a third straight victory.
“We ran a press to start the second half and that that pretty much got us going offensively and defensively,” said Melo Trimble, who led the way with 18 points. “We get stops and we’re a running team that hates to play slow, so that’s how we worked the lead up.”
Trimble was a big beneficiary of Sulaimon’s day as Santa’s helper. The senior had six assists in the first half and bested his Terrapin-high of seven early in the second frame. Trimble hit 5-of-6 shots from the field, all four of his 3-point attempts and was 4-of-4 at the line. He said he discovered early on this year how good a passer Sulaimon was, and joked that the smooth guard gets away with a lot with his sometimes dazzling dishes.
“He throws a lot of not-questionable passes but passes that I know if I were to throw, coach (Mark) Turgeon would be ‘What are you doing?’” said Trimble. “But Rasheed gets away with it in practice and I think that’s how he gets his confidence. That’s his game.”
Sulaimon had a more simple analysis. “My shot wasn’t falling so I had to do something else. We’ve got a lot of guys out there that can shoot the ball and score the ball. I feel like with my skillset that it’s perfectly conducive to getting people open.”
Time and again, Sulaimon broke down the Maryland Eastern Shore defense, whether one of the Hawks’ variety of zones or their man-to-man. He penetrated and found teammates for easy scores. The gold-clad Terrapins had 18 assists on 23 field goals, the mark of an efficient offense.
“We did not do a lot of one-on-one, we didn’t have to,” said Turgeon. “When we run our stuff and we execute, we’re pretty unselfish.”
Maryland was not as efficient at the other end, at least not until Turgeon threw a three-quarter-court press at the Hawks to start the second half and showed that 1-3-1 defense with the long-armed Jake Layman up top.
To get an idea of how imposing that 1-3-1 can be, consider 5-11 UMES point guard Thomas Rivera dribbling across half court to meet the 6-11 Damonte Dodd and the 6-8 Layman, each with those long arms, moving forward to trap.
“I knew walking off the floor (at halftime) we were going to do that,” said Turgeon. “That really gets Jake going. We don’t do it every game, but when we need it, it kind of gets us going. They were trying to dictate tempo, I thought, and we were allowing them to. It sped the game up which was good for us.”
The Terrapins opened the second half with a strong 15-4 run that essentially decided matters. After Robert Carter, Jr., hit two free throws and Shane Randall answered with a jumper, Layman threw in a three, as he started to get going. Trimble got two more free throws after a drive to make it 42-31 at 18:34.
Dominique Elliott got a dunk as UMES broke a press but then Trimble hit another three. Layman got a steal in the press and Trimble again hit a bomb. When Sulaimon scored in transition at 16:56, Maryland led 50-35.
Trimble was smiling broadly as he let that second three go, off a pass from who else – Sulaimon. “I was feeling it and I knew when Rasheed got the ball, he was going to make one more pass. I thought he played for everyone else and just made the right plays, and the plays he made got him 10 assists.”
The Terrapins shot 63.2 percent (12-of-19) in the second half, hit their first eight shots, and led by as many as 23 points at 6:26 when Jared Nickens knocked down a long three to make it 67-44. The taller Terrapins again did a lot of damage at the free throw line, hitting 21-of-25 attempts, compared to just 7-of-10 free throws by the Hawks, who ended up outrebounding Maryland, 28-26.
But again, here came Maryland Eastern Shore, running off nine straight points to make it 69-54 at 3:44, when Elliott hit a free throw, part of his big 20-point, 8-rebound day.
Trimble drilled two free throws on the ensuing possession, and a minute later both benches would clear – in the good way. The Terrapins certainly got the best end of that exchange, Jaylen Brantley hitting a 3-pointer and the suddenly-popular Ivan Bender getting an old-fashioned 3-point play on a dish from Brantley to put the final points on the board.
Maryland finished with an astounding 37-5 advantage in bench scoring, led by Nickens with 12 on 4-of-8 shooting, all behind the arc. Diamond Stone also had 12 on 4-of-7 shooting, to go with six rebounds and two blocks. Michal Cekovsky had seven points.
Maryland shot 51.1 percent from the field (23-of-45), the seventh time this season the Terrapins have been at 50 percent or better.
“We just take open shots within our offense,” said Nickens, who seems to grow more valuable with each game. “As long as the shots are not rushed, Coach doesn’t have a problem with it. As long as we’re moving the ball everything is fine. He just tells us to keep shooting.”
Sulaimon didn’t keep shooting. He finished just 1-of-5 from the field for four points, and concentrated on other ways to help the team.“I feel like we are so dynamic offensively that our defense kind of feeds off our offense. We can already shoot the ball, but when we get stops it kind of gets us going offensively. When you get stops and we get into the transition we can kind of get into a groove.”
Meanwhile, it was the fourth loss in a row for UMES, a team that reached the postseason (CollegeInsider.comTournament) for the first time in 30 years last season. The Hawks have also played eight of their first 10 games on the road, what you do at low Division I to help fill the athletic department coffers.
“I thought Maryland Eastern Shore played a nice game for what they’ve been through, to have to travel so much,” said Turgeon. “I thought they came out ready to play. I thought the start of the second half we were obviously good and we looked good because we missed shots.”
Maryland led 35-29 at the half but left the floor a little let down after squandering a 14-point lead. The Hawks scored 10 of the last 12 points in the half to climb back. After Cekovsky scored on a nifty baseline drive at 2:12, the Terps didn’t scratch again. Ryan Andino drained a 3-pointer to make 35-25, then Elliott snuck inside for a tip-in, a theme as UMES had a 16-14 rebounding edge at the half.
Elliott had nine points in the first half. Trimble and Stone each had eight for Maryland, which shot 42.3 percent (11-of-26), after a torrid start.
When Derrico Peck picked Layman’s pocket and scored with 4.5 seconds remaining, the Hawks had soared right back into the contest, shooting 46.2 percent (12-of-26).
“We have to do a better job of staying focused at the defensive end,” said Nickens.
“There was no concern, we know basketball is a game of runs,” added Trimble. “We had costly turnovers in the first half and we just couldn’t make any shots. We knew were going to make shots and get stops.”
That’s how Turgeon saw it, too. “I wasn’t disappointed, I was worried the way we finished the half, and I told them that. We just talked about playing a little bit harder and we changed our defense. They knew I was disappointed. They were disappointed in themselves. They expect more out of themselves.”
Earlier, the Terrapins put together a 14-2 run to seemingly take control. Stone and then Layman each hit pairs of free throws, then Sulaimon fed Stone twice in a row for easy buckets inside around a baseline jumper from UMES’ Devin Martin. Sulaimon got a steal and fed Trimble in transition and then Nickens drained a 3-pointer at 4:32 to make it 33-19.
Turgeon had through about pressing and using the Layman-led 1-3-1 just before the run but the Terrapins seemed to have things in hand until the Hawks’ run to end the first half.
Just over midway through a sloppy first half, UMES had more fouls (8) than made field goals (7), but somehow the Hawks were hanging around. Maryland went ice cold from the field, missing 11 of 13 shots over one forgettable stretch. Nickens hit a 3-pointer over the UMES 2-3 zone to make it 20-13 at 10:59, but Martin canned a jumper and then Randall hit two free throws to make it 20-17, at 8:30, before Maryland’s big run.
The Terrapins hit their first four shots, their first three free throws but led just 13-9 at 16:11, when Carter hit two free throws. That’s because the Hawks hit four of their first six shots, pesky Rivera scoring five early points to keep the Hawks close.
Nickens credited Sulaimon with helping the offense get going. “I think everybody appreciates his unselfishness. It rubs off on our team. It’s good for the offense with the way we run our motion. He’s a complete player in my eyes. He can score, dribble and pass, and defends well. He brings a lot to our team.”