COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Senior center Damonte Dodd predictably didn’t repeat his 15-point outburst against Michigan, but for the second straight night he made a significant difference in the game’s outcome. During Maryland’s 75-72 win against Indiana Jan. 10, the Terps’ defensive stopper stymied IU’s frontcourt, helping to hold Thomas Bryant and Juwan Morgan to six points each. In the process, Dodd ended up recording an eye-popping six blocks, to go along with his six points and six rebounds (yes, the dreaded 6-6-6 line).
“You could say that was my best defensive game,” Dodd said. “But I’m a defensive minded person, so I try to play the best defense every day and try to help my team in any way possible.”
Dodd tried to downplay his contributions, but it didn’t go unnoticed by head coach Mark Turgeon or his teammates. Plus, IU head coach Tom Crean called Dodd the best pick-and-roll defender in the Big Ten.
“I think he’s practiced better than he has at any point in his career. He has that sense of urgency, yeah, the lights coming at the end of the tunnel,” Turgeon said. “But he’s just a good player. He continues to work, he’s very intelligent on both ends of the floor.
“I was really happy for him the other night. Trying to guard those guys, he was terrific. We hadn’t had that rim protection the last two games… Damonte was great with six blocks, and we were much better around the rim defensively, primarily because of him.”
Equally impressive was Dodd’s ability to finish the game without fouling out. The perpetually-whistled Dodd picked up his fourth foul with 6:53 left and managed to stay in the rest of the way without drawing a fifth.
“He’s playing smarter, no doubt about it. Great growth, and he had a big block with four fouls,” Turgeon said, “My assistants said he had four fouls, he’s got to come out of the game. But I said, ‘I don’t care. He’s got to stay in.’ And he handled it well.”
Dodd personally said staying out of foul trouble has been a main focus for him. He said he’s been trying to avoid hand checks and making sure he has proper inside position in the post.
“It’s really important [to not foul],” Dodd said. “My team needs me, so I’m just trying to stay back and not foul. But if I do get in foul trouble I know I’ve got Ivan Bender and LG Gill to step in…. But a lot of it is me going to the referees and asking them different things. So the referees have been helping me out.”
The other Terp who’s been stepping up the last couple games is wing Jared Nickens. Although Nickens didn’t drop in four 3s like he did against Michigan, the junior played lockdown defense in his 10 minutes off the bench.
“He’s a veteran. He made two huge free throws and he guarded well. His team defense has been great. And [his shooting] really opens up the floor for us,” Turgeon said.
Nickens isn’t the only bench player who has risen to the occasion of late either. LG Gill chipped in seven points against the Hoosiers, Jaylen Brantley continues to give value minutes subbing in for Melo Trimble and once in awhile big man Ivan Bender drops in a bucket or two.
Guard Dion Wiley hasn’t played in three games due to illness and Nickens’ hot hand, but he’s given valuable minutes as well.
“Coach Turgeon has a lot of confidence in us… I feel like the bench is contributing way more than last year,” Brantley said. “Guys are more confident and just trying to do whatever they can to help the team.”
And, of course, it would be remiss not to mention the freshmen trio of Anthony Cowan, Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter. All three once again shined against Indiana, on both ends of the floor. Jackson scored 11 points and had six rebounds, Cowan had 15 points and played stellar defense, and Huerter knocked down three 3s and chipped in seven boards.
“Nothing ever surprises me -- anything they do. They’re dialed in, and they’re all smart players,” Turgeon said of the trio. “Earlier, they didn’t have the sense of urgency on every play or scouting report. But they’re getting hopefully they’ll continue to do it. If not, we have depth to step in.”
Well, they have depth in the backcourt.
Not so much in the frontcourt, where Michal Cekovsky remains sidelined. There’s a chance Cekovsky returns to action Jan. 14 against Illinois, but it’s questionable.
With Cekovsky out, the Terps have been forced to play Dodd more minutes than Turgeon would like, Gill has had to move into more of a “5” role, and Bender has had to see the floor more often.
“Luckily for us we have 13 players on scholarship, so we’ve been able to play through injuries to this point. I’d like to get Dion back to 100 percent, I’d like to get Ceko to 100 percent,” Turgeon said. “But we have enough guys where if someone isn’t doing well, we can put in another guy. We’re thin, especially against big teams. It’s a balancing act. But guys are practicing hard and taking advantages of the chance they’re given.”
Next up, Turgeon and Co. will try that balancing act against Illinois (12-5, 2-2 Big Ten), a squad without much length or depth.
It was only three weeks ago that Illinois trekked over to College Park and was handed a 25-point loss. But thanks to Big Ten scheduling quirks, now the Terps will head to Champaign, Ill., for round two against the Illini Jan. 14 at 6 p.m.
“I wish we were going back to late February, so that [game] would have left their mind… you saw it [Jan. 12], Purdue whipped Iowa pretty good at home and Iowa got them [Jan. 12],” Turgeon said. “Our guys are aware of it. They realize Illinois didn’t play their best game here; they don’t miss those shots at home.”
Although the game was only a few weeks ago, this isn’t the same Illinois team Maryland saw the first go-around. The Illini removed senior big man Mike Thorne from the starting lineup and inserted Maverick Morgan. Also, freshman forward Kipper Nichols has seen his minutes increase steadily the last few games.
Since the changes, the Illini have beaten Ohio State and Michigan, with their lone loss coming at Indiana.
“You’ve got to be sure [the Terps] are aware of the two players that played a lot the other night. Nichols is a guy we didn’t know as well … but they didn’t play Thorne and moved [Morgan] to the 5,” Turgeon said. “They’re basically running the same stuff, but there are some adjustments that need to be made.”
During the initial UMD-Illinois bout, Terps’ point guard Melo Trimble led the way with 20 points, while Anthony Cowan, Justin Jackson and Jaylen Brantley all scored in double-figures. Collectively, the Terps shot 56 percent from the field and held Illinois to just 35.6 percent, including a woeful 4-of-22 performance from 3.
Even so, the Terps said they’re expecting a different Illinois team Jan. 14.
“I didn’t play [in the first game] but I watched. I just told the team we have to come out with the same energy and more intensity,” said Dodd, who was injured for the first Illini game. “It’s going to be tougher. The crowd is going to be into it and we’ve got to be ready.”
Senior wing Malcolm Hill leads the way at 18.6 points per game on 44.5 percent shooting. Hill, who dropped 21 on Maryland Dec. 27, also averages just under three assists and just over six rebounds a game.
Point guard Tracy Abrams is second on the squad at 10.6 points, and leads with about three assists per night. He’s a potent deep threat (46 percent) and is known as a solid defender too.
Forward Leron Black is Illinois’ leading rebounder (6.8 per game) and third-leading scorer (9.9.). He’s shooting 47.5 percent from the field, but isn’t a threat from deep.
Senior center Maverick Morgan, who stepped in for Thorne, is up to 9.8 points and four rebounds per game. He’s efficient around the rim at 61.5 percent and is also the team’s best rim protector with 14 blocks.
Rounding out the starting lineup is guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, who averages 9.1 on 38 percent shooting. He’s hitting 40 percent of his triples too, but doesn’t attempt many during the course of a game.
“We can’t look at the fact that we beat them already,” Brantley said. “This game is in their house, and we have to be ready. It’s going to be a good game.”