Terps' defense against FSU is offensive

If, as of 8 p.m. Tuesday night, the secret wasn't out, well, it was there for all to see a few hours later.

The Maryland Terrapins are not a good defensive team. Some would say they're downright bad, and after their 96-79 loss to Florida State Tuesday night, it would be difficult to argue otherwise.

Here's how bad it was: FSU made 30 of its first 43 shots. The Seminoles shot 61.7 percent from the floor. And by the 10-minute mark of the second half, they were closing in on 80 points. It's difficult to win when you give up 80 points in an entire game.

Yet that's about how many points the Terps (16-6 overall, 2-5 ACC) are surrendering in seven conference games – 79.1 per game, to be precise, worst in the conference. By contrast, the ACC's top defensive team, Duke, is giving up 61.3 points a game.

The Terps looked listless last night. That's being kind. Florida State was able to get whatever shot, whenever and from wherever it wanted. It was a good thing that FSU coach Leonard Hamilton inexplicably didn't run the offense through sensational forward Al Thornton (12 for 17, 27 points) all night, or it could have been worse.

The problem is pretty simple. Maryland is playing against a loaded deck. The Terps have no rugged big man and have young, skinny guards. That's not a good combination when you're playing in college basketball's elite conference.

Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist are great, springy shot-blockers, but neither is a menacing presence in the paint. The Terps lead the conference in blocks and are 11th of 12 teams in rebounding margin. Gist and Ibekwe are doing what they are suited to do – fly out at shooters – but the problem is there's not a true big man behind them.

The root of this goes back to the two centers, Will Bowers and Hassan Fofana, who were brought in four years ago. Neither panned out, leaving Ibekwe and Gist to man the post. But recruiting is another issue for another day, and it's safe to say Gary Williams and staff are well aware of it. Good big men who can score, defend and rebound aren't easy to find -- sort of like good left-handed pitchers.

The ironic thing about watching Maryland's indefensible defense last night was that the best defensive player on the floor might have been Mike Jones, who has been maligned for his defense, or lack thereof. Jones worked tirelessly to stay in front of his man and dove for loose balls, while his teammates seemed to be playing a step slower than their counterparts.

"It seemed like they could always make the shot when they had to," Williams said. "I don't think there is a quicker team around than these guys."

The player with the most defensive accolades, meantime, was in a funk. It seems D.J. Strawberry's offensive woes in conference play (32.4 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range) have affected his defense. To his credit, at least he wasn't in denial afterwards.

"We played terrible defense tonight," Strawberry told reporters.

Problem is, it wasn't simply an aberration or an off-night on the road. The Terps have been the most generous team in the ACC through nearly half of the conference schedule.

Another eye-opening stat: Maryland is actually the best team in the ACC when it comes to defending the 3-point line. Opponents are making a piddling 29.7 percent of their 3s. That means that inside the arc, ACC teams are hitting 51.3 percent of their shots against Maryland.

Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez are bound for great careers, but they're freshman and they're not physically imposing by any means, nor do they have lighting quickness. Next to Thornton, who is a grown man, they looked like the kids that they are. Experienced, physically mature guards aren't having trouble getting good shots off against them, and the Ibekwe-Gist combo is not beefy enough to hold down the lane.

Bambale Osby, meantime, has the muscle and the disposition to do so, but not the height. He's also a liability on offense.

With the game well out of reach in the final minute, it was interesting to watch the players chase after the ball like their feet were caught on fire. Moments earlier, Williams had been shown berating them on the sideline.

Judging by their frantic reaction, it's safe to assume he brought into question what everyone's respective role would be Saturday at Wake Forest. It wouldn't be surprising to see him tinkering with his rotation or even his starting lineup. It also wouldn't be surprising to see them come out with that same desperation they showed in the final minute.

Defense, they say, is at least 50 percent the product of effort. If the Terps can't do a respectable job against one of the ACC's worst offenses after an embarrassing defensive showing like this one, it'll be difficult not to question how hard the players are trying.

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