COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The snow plows and snow movers were working overtime outside Xfinity Center Jan. 27, and inside the 8th-ranked Terrapins were working on plowing out space, too.
Maryland (17-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) has given up 29 offensive rebounds the last two games, and that’s just one of a host of concerns as No. 3 and Big Ten-leading Iowa rolls into town for a game Jan. 28 at 7 p.m.Coming off a tough 74-65 loss at Michigan State Saturday, the Terrapins are a team that may need to make a statement like the Spartans did when they snapped their three-game losing streak and knocked off Maryland.
“I’ll never say this early in the year that it’s a must win,” said Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon Jan. 27 courtside. “We’ll be fired up to play. We’ll be ready to play. It’s a great opportunity. Iowa is playing as well as anybody in the country. They’re just killing teams. The games aren’t really close. We won’t put that kind of pressure on ourselves but we want to play well.”
Back to that rebounding, though, Jake Layman said Jan. 27, that area will be a key in what is shaping up as Maryland’s biggest game of the season. “First-shot rebounding, I think our first-shot defense is great but our rebounding is what we need to work on. Giving up offensive rebounds has been bad the past two games. We’ve got to come out and try and dominate the boards.”
And don’t bet against the Terrapins doing that, and doing a lot well against the high-flying Hawkeyes. Maryland is 9-0 following a loss the past two seasons and they’re anxious to play before a packed, raucous home crowd Jan. 28, the first conference game where all the students will be back.
The Terrapins can use every edge they can get against an Iowa team ranked higher than anytime in program history and on a 13-game winning streak in conference regular season play dating back to last year.
Iowa (16-3, 7-0) is off to the best start in school history and tied for first place in the Big Ten standings with Indiana, two games up on third-place Maryland. The Hawkeyes boast a veteran lineup, highlighted by a big, talented front line featuring 6-9 senior Jarrod Uthoff (18.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg), a legitimate player of the year candidate, and 7-1 senior Adam Woodbury (8.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg). Peter Jok, a 6-6 junior guard, chips in 14.7 ppg, and senior point guard Mike Gesell (8.8 ppg, 6.9 apg) runs the show. Anthony Clemmons, another senior, rounds out the first five. The 6-2 wing guard averages 8.6 ppg.
Uthoff leads the Big Ten in scoring and (3.0) blocked shots, and he’s the linchpin of a high-scoring (81.7 ppg) offense. And you better keep up with them or find a way to slow them down. Over the last six years, they’re 49-7, when scoring 80 points or more. Of Iowa’s three losses this year, they’ve been by a combined 12 points.
“They’re so consistent with so many veteran players,” said Layman. “They know how to win close games.
But the Terrapins are 29-1 at home over the last two years, including 24 in a row and victories in all 13 Big Ten home games since joining the league. No. 3 Iowa will be a severe challenge to all those marks.
“They’re the most skilled basketball team in the country,” said Turgeon. “They’re nine deep. Every player is skilled. They can all shoot the three except Woodbury, and he might be able to make some. They stretch you out. They change their defenses. They’ve got a toughness to them. You don’t get to No. 3 in the country without having a good team. You don’t get to 7-0 in the Big Ten without having a really good team. They’re playing well and they’re very confident right now.”
Meanwhile, the Terrapins gave up 17 offensive rebounds at Michigan State, got beat down the court too many times, got 4-of-20 shooting from Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon, and still hung around in the game against a Spartan much better than their record.
Maryland still boasts five players in double-figure scoring – Melo Trimble at 14.5, Robert Carter and Diamond Stone at 13.2, Layman, 10.7, and Sulaimon, 10.3. The Terrapins are averaging 77.4 points per game and shooting 50.3 percent from the field as a team, a figure that ranks sixth in the country.
Turgeon thinks the offense can improve, though. “We have shot too many jump shots. I thought we shot too many at Michigan State, especially at the start. Our first play of the game was a post-up play and then we end up shooting three threes to start the game. We’ve got a lot of time to get better but hopefully we can get better in that aspect quickly where we can take a little pressure off our offense by getting to the foul like a little more.”
Trimble, who had the equivalent of Frequent Flyer miles at the free throw line last year, has been a little frustrated this year as it has been tougher getting to the stripe, defenses trying to take away that part of his game. “It’s not something I look for every game,” he said. “I just go out and play basketball. Getting to the free throw line is going to come with me being aggressive, and just us being aggressive.”
Maybe the answer is right there in front of the Terps. Stone had just three shots at Michigan State, though he did go 4-of-4 at the line, as well. He and Carter, who at times is too much outside and not enough inside, could both use more touches in the paint. Stone is hitting 63.5 percent of his shots, and Carter, 53.8.
The Terrapins have often “settled” for jump shots in their offense this season, and that has resulted in the kind of rebounds that lead to quick scores by opponents, a killer at Michigan State, and compounded when the Terps didn’t protect their own glass.
Trimble, one of the settling culprits, said he had pointed out his seven rebounds last game to some of the big guys, and it’s obvious Maryland’s problems – shot selection and rebounding are somewhat interrelated. “I just told them we’ve got to get better on the boards,” he said. “Tomorrow would be a perfect time for us to pick it up.”
“Melo had seven rebounds, Rasheed had seven rebounds the last game so we do have our guards rebounding a little bit better,” said Turgeon, who never likes to push a panic button publicly. “Hopefully our big guys can do a little better job at creating space and getting rebounds in the game. It’s something we’ve been working on for several weeks to get better. We do think we’re getting better as a basketball team. It doesn’t look that way at times but to be 17-3, and play the schedule we’ve played, we’re headed in the right direction.”
The Terrapin schedule has been demanding but Maryland is missing a signature win, the kind that turns a 3-or-4 NCAA Tournament seed into a No. 2.
“I can’t wait to play against Iowa,” said Trimble. “I’ve been watching them all year. They’re a great team, very balanced. It’s going to be a great challenge for us. They play so well together. They play as a team and they really know how to dominate a game.”
But Trimble sometimes seems to save his best basketball for the biggest stages. He had 24 points against Georgetown, 23 at North Carolina, 25 against UConn, and 24 at Michigan State with College GameDay in the house.
“I don’t think about what I do in big games, I just go out there and play, and take what the defense gives me,” said Trimble. “If it’s not my night, it’s not my night. But if it’s my night, I somehow find a way to shine.”
“I expect Melo to play well,” added Turgeon. “I expect our whole team to play well. We’re growing up. We have some maturity on our team with Jake, Rasheed, Robert, Melo, so I expect all those guys to play well. Melo knows what to do. When the game’s on the line or we need scoring, he tries to do it for us. If we’re going to beat Iowa, it’s going to take our whole team. Just Melo being Melo is what we need.”
Beyond the national rankings and the hype surrounding the two Top 10 teams meeting, the schedule plays a role in the big game feel, too. Following this epic tilt, the Terrapins are back on the road at Ohio State Sunday, the Buckeyes still smarting from that 100-65 beat-down in College Park on Jan. 16, and anxious for another shot. A trip to dangerous Nebraska follows before the Terrapin head home for a three-game homestand, starting with Purdue Feb. 6.
Layman said the Terrapins need to keep it rolling, starting at home where the fans can help. “This is a very tough place to play, just the passion of our fans. It’s a big building, a lot of people can fit in here and it can get very loud.”
Turgeon wants what he saw Saturday at Michigan State, and what his team has seen much of the season at home in rolling to that 11-0 record here. “In East Lansing, the energy in that building gave (Michigan State a lift). It’s big. It’s so hard to win in college basketball. You play so many games, so when you have a home game and it’s going to be packed…hopefully they can get the snow removed from the roads in, so guys can be on time tomorrow night. It can make a huge impact on the game.”