COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland’s shooting woes against zone defenses dates back several seasons, and already this year the issue has cropped up twice in the last week. Richmond employed a matchup zone against Maryland Nov. 25, which slowed the Terps’ attack for much of the night until talent and Melo Trimble won out in overtime. Four nights later, at Xfinity Center, UMD succumbed to Pittsburgh’s 3-2 zone, the Terps falling for the first time in 2016-17, 73-59.
Maryland, unable to deal with Pitt’s length, shot a season-low 34 percent and scored a season-low 59 points. The Terps, who entered the game struggling from 3 at 31 percent, decided to settle for deep jumpers much of the night, and ended up hitting just 10 on 36 attempts (27.8 percent).
Freshman Justin Jackson started out hot, nailing a pair of triples out of the gate to supposedly buoy the Terps’ sharpshooters’ confidence. But Jackson didn’t hit another trey the rest of the game and finished with only eight points. Trimble, meanwhile, misfired on six of his eight 3-point attempts, and freshman deep threat Kevin Huerter missed seven of his nine shots beyond the arc. Meanwhile, freshman guard Anthony Cowan finished 1-of-4 from range, and junior wing Jared Nickens rode pine in the second half after once again failing to find his stroke during the first 20 minutes (1 of 5).
The lone bright spot was sophomore guard Dion Wiley, who finally showed signs of regaining his form with two second-half 3s.
“The fact is we didn't execute against a zone the way we should, the way we practiced [Monday],” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We’d like to play inside-out, which we did. I’m going to watch the film and realize we had four or five open 3s against it and didn’t make them. I thought we were getting a lot of good looks and just didn’t make them. We wanted to screen the middle man, play inside-out. It just didn’t work. It didn’t work. Then we tried some things we didn’t practice to give guys more confidence in open space. It was just one of those nights.”
The Terps may have practiced against the zone, but apparently they needed more time. Rather than hit Justin Jackson, who was open at the top of the lane most of the night, the Maryland backcourt settled for long jumpers well beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the Terps’ most effective big man, Michal Cekovsky, failed to get nearly enough touches (or minutes). In 20 minutes, Cekovsky had four field-goal attempts -- and made them all.
And while Turgeon said his team played inside-out, they didn’t do it nearly often enough. True, Trimble and Cowan did try to drive and kick on several occasions, but when the duo found open teammates, they failed to execute.
“We had a lot of good looks. We’ve got to take them; we have a lot of good shooters,’ Trimble said. “We have confidence in our shooters. In practice we make them… We just couldn’t hit the shots…. We were ready [for the zone]. We just couldn’t make the shots.
“I missed my [3s]. It happens. It’s basketball. We’re going to keep working, keep gaining confidence and keep getting better.”
Indeed, live by the 3, die by the 3.
Fact is, the Terps needed to attack the rim and find ways to feed the post. Pitt’s length certainly played a role in the decision making, but Maryland isn’t going to win many games getting to the free-throw line a total of 12 times, while being outscored in the paint 32-22.
“It was kind of tough,” said Damonte Dodd. “Being a shooter and you don’t see your shots go in can mess up your head a little bit … [The Panthers] have really big guards, so that was tough.”
Said Trimble: “[Pitt] ran zone and really wanted to keep me out of the paint. Whenever I tried to drive, they there were two [players] on me, and I just couldn’t get to the spots I wanted to.”
Turgeon, for his part, was more concerned with Maryland’s 14 turnovers than its inability to execute offensively. The headman did admit his Terps probably “shot it quick” a couple times, but he’s confident the Terps long-range weapons will begin to click as the season moves along.
“Please zone us, please zone us. We’re going to make shots. We’re going to be great against the zone,” Turgeon said. “I was thrilled [Pitt] zoned us. Zone us. We’re going to be good; we just weren’t good tonight.
“I’m telling you, we’re going to be a great zone-offense team. Great shooters, guys that can penetrate, great guys around the rim. It just wasn’t our night.”