COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- With Maryland clinging to a two-point lead over Michigan midway through the second half Feb. 21, Terps’ freshman center Diamond Stone made a strong move towards the hoop and put up a layup. But he botched the attempt, seemingly another missed opportunity for a UMD squad that had allowed the Wolverines to claw back into the game.
Fortunately for Stone, though, his fellow paint presence, junior Damonte Dodd, was right there to clean up. Dodd beat his man to the glass, snagged the offensive rebound and threw down a monstrous dunk, drawing a foul from Mark Donnal in the process. The and-one put Maryland up 63-58, and earned Dodd a thump on the chest from a fired-up Stone.
“I was so excited,” said Dodd of the key sequence in UMD’s 86-82 victory, ending its two-game skid, “that I didn’t even feel [Stone’s hit]. I was just happy to make a play.”
Dodd made more than a few plays Feb. 21.
So did his No. 2 cohorts, the Terps’ bench finally coming to life after a two-game absence.
Against Minnesota, Maryland’s backups contributed just two points all night, and before that, during the loss to Wisconsin, the bench chipped in four. But the Wolverines’ bout woke the dormant No. 2s up, Dodd, Jaylen Brantley and Jared Nickens combining for 18 points. The trio played lockdown defense, for the most part, as well.
Dodd ended up with seven points, six rebounds and two blocks; Brantley had five points, three steals and an assist; and Nickens canned a pair of triples, while pitching in a rebound.
“Tonight the whole team helped us: Brantley, Nickens, Robert Carter, Jake Layman, Sheed [Rasheed Sulaimon], Melo [Trimble], Diamond, Damonte. It was a great team effort [Feb. 21],” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “For the first time in four or five weeks, we looked like the team we were. We showed some toughness.”
Said Dodd: “I tell the guys on the bench, ‘Let’s come in and if the starters are doing good or if they’re in a slump, let’s just be that spark.’ That’s what we do.”
Dodd, in particular, has silenced his critics of late. The 6-foot-11 center, mired in inconsistencies this season, has put together back-to-back solid outings. During the loss at Minnesota, Dodd only scored four points, but he recorded nine rebounds and – get this – six blocks. And speaking of blocks, Dodd had two in a row early on Feb. 21, first denying Kameron Chatman’s layup attempt before stuffing Derrick Walton 35 seconds later. The consecutive rejections sent the Xfinity Center crowd into bedlam as Maryland went on an extended run to go up double-digits.
“Damonte is coming off the best defensive game maybe in his career here at Minnesota, where he blocks six shots; saves about four baskets; altered four or five others; and played really smart,” Turgeon said. “So we had a lot of confidence in him. Then he played with great toughness around the basket [against Michigan]. He had that three-point play and got to the rim, had second-chance points. He’s really playing well. I was really happy for Damonte, and I think he’s finding his niche at the right time and really helping us.”
Power forward Robert Carter agreed with his coach. In fact, Carter, who contributed 17 points Feb. 21, broached Dodd’s name first during the postgame press conference.
“[Dodd] played huge. He caused a lot of havoc around the rim,” Carter said. “He was big for us in the middle, getting out on shooters, helping around the rim and making [Michigan] adjust their game plan.”
Dodd said his performance at Minnesota spurred his confidence, especially on the defensive end. His goal was to build off the effort in Minneapolis, Minn., and continue providing energy whenever Turgeon calls upon him.
“Just be a rim protector for the team, and I think the team feels very secure when I’m back there. I just try to be a presence and do my job,” Dodd said. “Me being back there, the guards and like Rob [Carter], they just feel comfortable. They know if they get beat, I’m going to come and make up for it. It makes me feel good to know I can be that relief for my team.”
Dodd wasn’t the only backup who earned more than a couple accolades after the Michigan affair. The point guard Brantley, who’d seen his confidence shaken to the point where he was supplanted by No. 3 Varun Ram, has played better of late. He hasn’t been as hesitant pulling the trigger on jump shots, while he’s picked up the pace defensively.
“I’m so happy for that kid. Jaylen never hung his head and kept practicing hard,” Turgeon said. “When I decided to go with Varun over him, that’s when he kind of turned it on and really started practicing well.
“I just went to him [Feb. 20] and said, ‘I don’t want you taking bad shots, but if you’re open you shoot it, because you’re a great shooter and we recruited you as a shooter. But I thought his defense was terrific [Feb. 21]. He had two big steals… It’s good because Jaylen’s a winner, and if you’ve watched his career and what he’s done, he can really help us moving forward.”
Unprompted, Dodd offered up his compliments for Brantley as well. The big man also said interior players like Michal Cekovsky and Ivan Bender will need to step up heading into March.
“It was good seeing Jaylen scoring and making defensive plays, because we really need him down the stretch,” Dodd said. “It is a long season, and your legs start to catch up with you after awhile. So just being a relief, we’re going to need Ceko and we’re probably going to need Ivan Bender down the stretch also. It’s good to have so many talented bigs that can come in.”
Nickens got off the snide too. The sophomore sharpshooter has not exactly been a force on defense this season, but his 3-point stroke has also waned the last month or so. He didn’t score a single point against either Minnesota or Wisconsin, so the two treys he nailed against Michigan served as a significant positive.
Which, really, is what the Terps’ mindset has been, even after a pair of lackluster performances leading up to Feb. 21.
“We just try to keep a positive mindset for ourselves, because we’re the ones playing and we have to be positive to execute,” Dodd said. “But it feels good to get another win, and we just have to keep building from here.”