While Maryland’s guards, Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan, deserve plenty of credit for leading the Terps’ up-tempo attack and finding their teammates for easy buckets Feb. 29 against Rutgers, the frontcourt shouldn’t be overlooked. UMD’s trio of beleaguered big men, who have been inconsistent this season and were further depleted when offensive threat Michal Cekovsky went down with a broken ankle, each rose to the occasion in Piscataway, N.J.
Damonte Dodd, Ivan Bender and L.G. Gill combined for 29 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, three assists and two steals in the Terps’ 79-59 romp. And the numbers hardly do justice to their defensive performance, with all three actively protecting the rim, offering help-side defense and quickly rotating.
“Our post guys were connected [against RU],” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “They worked well together on the offensive and defensive end.”
The senior starter Dodd bounced back from three straight forgettable outings with a stat-stuffing effort, consisting of nine points (4-of-5 from the field), seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Dodd only played six minutes in the first half due to early foul trouble, but he responded with a stellar 12 minutes in the latter frame.
“I thought Damonte’s energy really got us going. Then on the defensive end and rebounding, he ran the floor hard,” Turgeon said. “That opened things up. I thought Damonte changed the game with his activity level there at the start of the second half with his rebounding. The second half was as good as we’ve been in awhile. We were much more physical with our defense and rebounding.”
With Maryland leading by just two a minute into the second half, Dodd ignited the Terps with a bucket. A minute later, he muscled inside for a rebound and started UMD’s transition offense, which ended with a Trimble triple. Then, the 6-foot-11 center proceeded to stuff Rutgers’ Mike Williams on defense, grab an offensive board after a missed Cowan shot on the opposite end, and throw down yet another dunk.
By the time Dodd and Co. were finished, just three minutes in, Maryland had a 12-point lead. Rutgers never drew within single digits the rest of the way.
"In the huddle I just said let's try to start off defensively and get as many stops as possible," Dodd said. "I know we can score so it was important we get stops."
Said Trimble of Dodd: "He played really well in the second half. We had to get him going."
He wasn’t the only frontcourt player Trimble and his backcourt mates got going.
The sophomore rotational piece Bender bounced back from a woeful performance against Iowa with 10 points and three assists in a season-high 22 minutes.
Bender finished in the post thanks to some nifty passing courtesy of Trimble, Cowan and Jaylen Brantley, but it was the 6-9 forward’s own dimes that opened eyes. Six minutes into the second half Bender took a pass inside, but instead of making a move, he kicked the ball out to an open Dion Wiley, who drained a 3. Later in the frame, Bender seamlessly executed a give-and-go with Justin Jackson, who laid the ball in.
“[Bender] was terrific,” Turgeon said. “He was great around the basket, he’s such a good passer, and we did some really nice things with him in there. And defensively he was really solid… When he plays like that, we’re a really good team.”
Last but not least, the graduate transfer Gill put together his best offensive game since Big Ten play began, scoring in double figures for the first time since he dropped 15 on St. Mary’s way back in mid-November. Gill played 16 minutes off the bench and converted all four of his field goals and two free throws.
On one occasion, Kevin Huerter drove the lane and dished to Gill for a dunk, while Bender hit the converted “5” man for another stuff.
“LG Gill, look at the way that kid is playing right now, getting those opportunities. It would be nice if we could get that production the rest of the year,” Turgeon said. “Having depth helps. It was good to see.”
With four minutes remaining in the game, Bender gave the Terps a 72-50 lead, their largest of the night. Maryland coasted a bit from there, but Jared Nickens capped the dominant half with a trey, giving the Terps a 20-point victory and effectively slamming the door on UMD’s three-game losing streak.
“The thing is we didn’t let up. We just kept playing,” Turgeon said. “Our guys stayed dialed in, kept guarding and kept trying to execute. They looked like a very experienced, seasoned team. Hopefully carrying forward that’s the way we’re going to play the rest of the year.”