The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The good, the bad and the ugly from Maryland's first and second-round matchups in the NCAA tournament, and how the Terps have to step up to knock off Kansas in the Sweet 16.

And there was plenty of all three to go around in last night's NCAA Tournament tussle between the No. 5 seed Terps and 13th-seeded Hawaii, which Maryland came out on top of, 73-60, to advance to Thursday's Sweet Sixteen showdown with Kansas in Louisville, Ky. 

It’s a game that will pit Mark Turgeon against his alma mater Jayhawks, and Maryland’s first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2003.

So let’s break it down some….where they have been, and where they are going now:

THE GOOD  

Maryland is going to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 13, yes you heard right, 13 years. All kind of astonishing for the tradition-rich program, which has a “Natty” to its credit thanks to Gary Williams in 2002, but far too many "what-ifs" ever since.

And if the Terps play like they did in the second half of last night's contest in Spokane, Wash., vs the Rainbows, hopefully they won't have too many regrets this time around, either.

The Terps overcame a horrid, lackluster opening-half performance -- in which the half-court offense bogged down yet again and they settled for off-balance jumpers or late threes -- to finally toss the ball inside to freshman center Diamond Stone (10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the opening half) to stay in the game with a tenuous 28-27 lead at intermission.

Maryland had hoisted iffy jumpers on its first several possessions, when all it had to do was (as most have been screaming all year) pound, pound, pound inside, where they had all the advantages over Hawaii's thin front-court. 

But it took them a while to figure that out, and Trimble to dribble-penetrate to open up the lane to free bigs on the blocks, or shooters on the wings with cleaner looks. Maryland would finish 1-18 from three-point land, was out-worked on the offensive glass by an astounding 16-2 advantage, and finished the game down 42-35 in total rebounds.

One lucky Hawaii player even snagged a rebound (and an assist) while laying on the floor, what with Robert Carter, Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone looking on flat-footed in the lane. That may have been the most galling letdown play of the year out on the floor.

But Maryland lived off its tenacious perimeter defense, led by Rasheed Sulaimon, and finally blew open the game early in the second when it used a little “small-ball” to ignite its up-tempo game to change the pace of the game quickly in their favor. 

The Terps, once they went on attack-mode led by Trimble's threes and Sulaimon's tips and deflections and breakaways and Stone's finishes off the break, capped a 14-0 run on a Trimble three-ball with about 7 minutes left for a commanding 53-41 lead in the once-taut contest. The smaller lineup of Trimble, Jaylen Brantley, Sulaimon, Layman and some Damonte Dodd  got them up and down the court (and out of their often-tired half court sets) and generated some offense off of defense. Meanwhile, Dodd's 5 blocks off the bench were huge rim protecting moments at a needed time.

Trimble led all scorers with 24 points despite his slow start, while adding 8 rebounds and 3 assists, and finally got downhill in the offense and not side-to-side as much. Meanwhile, Sulaimon was the spark at both ends with 14 points, 5 rebounds, tied for a team-high 3 assists and was very sticky defensively (more on his defense in a moment). Stone, after his big lift inside in the first half, finished with 14 points but only two boards as he was ineffective defensively, and the Terps used Dodd more in the second half.     

Maryland, once it learned the key to success could be the inside game (how many times have we said that this year?), shot a blistering 21-for-30 inside the arc as they got to the hoop and were fouled. And they were also aided by another big night at the free throw line, enjoying a 28-for-31 clip.

And the pressing and running (and having a better option in 4-man Jake Layman chasing three-point shooters on the perimeter than Carter) gave Maryland new life and energy it desperately looked for in the too-close-for-comfort contest against a 13th seed, inferior opponent which struggled all night to find any offensive rhythm of its own.

THE BAD

Well, there were some downright ugly numbers, including Maryland's shooting woes and iffy ball decisions once again. And there was the lack of energy and interest early. And that lack of an inside game when the contest screamed for it.

But worst of all was Hawaii's offensive production in the teeth of Maryland's superb perimeter defense.

While Maryland lacked much inside punch defensively, see Stone's struggles and Carter's gaffes, Terps guards Rasheed Sulaimon, Melo Trimble and Jake Layman (between his 3 and 4-man spots), helped push Hawaii's offense 25 feet from the basket for much of the night and kept the lane shut down.

The Terps guards denied and fronted Hawaii back-court mates and stars Roderick Bobbitt (1-8 field goals, 0-for-2 threes, 6 pts), Qunicy Smith (5-for-11 field goals, 0-1 threes, 11 pts) and Aaron Valdes (2-for-14 field goals, 1-5 threes, 6 points), and didn't allow for much dribble penetration, which had been the calling-card of the slashing, mid-range standouts of late. Hawaii had a few stretches of five-plus minutes without a bucket as the Terps defense simply smothered. 

Hawaii started 1-for-13 from three-point range in the first half, harassed and rushed into poor shots, and finished just 4-for-19 from beyond the arc. And they shot just 23-for-70 (32 percent) from the floor for the game. Maryland, in its attack mode in the second half, got to the free throw line (31) more than twice than Hawaii's (15). 

As they say, good things happen when you attack the rim, and Maryland finally learned that in the second, and were rewarded with the charity stripe trips. Meanwhile, Hawaii never could, thanks to Maryland's one steady calling-card of late, its defense, which stymied most of what they tried to do, shutting down passing lanes and the middle.

THE UGLY 

The ugly, well that would be if Maryland falls into similar slow starts, brain-funks, and forgets the inside game against No. 1 seed Kansas Thursday night in Louisville.

The Terps match up fairly decently, 1-5, versus the Jayhawks. But this will take the Terps most physical, smart and inspired effort of the year, all from jump, to stand toe to toe in.

With Kansas' great balance, size, physical maturity and depth, there will be no 5-10 minutes to find themselves for the Terps. Or lapses in transition defense, marking the three-point shooters, or forgetting to box out.

Guards Frank Mason, III, Devonte' Graham and 6-5 Wayne Selden are a lethal trio that has pushed Kansas to 32-4 and wins in 16 straight games, while "old-head" Perry Ellis, the 6-8 senior forward, is an assassin from mid-range and with hustle plays. Inside, they are long and tough led by rim protectors 6-10 Landon Lucas, 6-9 Dwight Coleby and 6-8 Jamari Traylor, and they come at you in waves with all their depth and experience. 

Maryland has to be on the attack again, just as in the second half against Hawaii, and try to push tempo/transition as best they can. Get to the line, set some tempo, and not fall prey to their half-court offensive struggles again, this time against a huge, long, and deep team with no margin of error with few second-chance opportunities once the ball is up.

Maryland is best when they are moving and cutting and not over-dribbling and hoisting three-balls as much, and the 1-3-1 press with the lengthy Jake Layman up top has been a good way to scramble pace in their favor when things are bogging down.

But to shoot (and basically play) as poorly as they did for long stretches against Hawaii, yet still come out on top by 13, says a bit about Maryland's grit and resolve this time of the year when contests are on the line, no matter how frustrating the Terps have been to watch in stretches at times this season. 

The season continues on, and like many Terps fans, maybe everyone is waiting for that breakout game – finally -- when it matters most, which Kansas clearly represents as the stage keeps getting bigger  for Maryland in the 2015-16 season.


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