Suffice it to say, Maryland’s 66-62 win over Florida Atlantic was a bona fide double bagger. Florida Atlantic is a team that Maryland should have beaten by about 15, but with the way they shot (39% overall) it’s amazing they won at all. Thank goodness Jake Layman picked a fantastic time to get hot for his team, because without him hitting most of his shots Maryland loses this one. His 22 points and hyper efficient shooting performance were the two biggest factors in getting Maryland that victory.
Mostly, I think this game is one that you’ve just got to move on from quickly and forget about it. The biggest thing to take away from it is that Maryland played an ugly game and still won. At no point in time did I think the Terps were going to drop that game even when Florida Atlantic cut it to within four late in the game. The team coaxed enough juice out of the engine to get them to the finish line first and didn’t collapse.
And even though the score seems close, that wasn’t indicative of how overmatched the Owls were. Had Maryland been a bit more efficient offensively, like not missing layups (looking at you, Nick and Smotrycz), they could have blown the doors off this one. If Maryland’s typically consistent third option doesn’t miss all six of his three point attempts, Maryland wins by a huge margin. They didn’t get those bounces tonight and still came away with a W. That’s an encouraging sign.
To be honest, I actually think there are some very positive things to take away from this game when you go back and look at the tape. For example:
Maryland got a taste of zone defense
Florida Atlantic wasn’t very great at much offensively, but give credit where credit is due, their defensive performance was top notch. The Owls played zone the majority of the game and challenged Maryland’s players to shoot the ball. Their rotations and doubles in the post were executed better than most teams I’ve seen. Go back and watch the tape, you’ll see how difficult they made life for our guards trying to get entry passes to our big men.
After the game, Coach Turgeon explained why he took Peters out of the game to try and bust the zone with shooters. Unfortunately, Smotrycz couldn’t get his shot going in time despite having some decent looks, so the zone technically served its purpose. But after Turgeon saw that shots weren’t falling, he put his big men back out there with Peters.
Peters (and Faust) were eventually able to get into the lane and find the dump off to the backside big men when the defensive help came over, which is why Shaq Cleare had his best game of the season. Maryland eventually figured it out, and it’s great that they got to see a zone employed well so early in the season.
You have to think that when the Terps play Syracuse, who runs the same defense (only better), they’re going to be much more prepared as a result of this game. Figuring out how to dissect a zone’s weakness is hard for any team, and the more Maryland gets to play against it, the better off they’ll be.
Shaquille Cleare finally played assertively
I can’t tell you how relieved Cleare sounded after the game. He mentioned silencing the naysayers online and using that negativity as fuel to get better, and if that’s what it took to wake a sleeping giant, then so be it. Cleare looked as good as I have ever seen him play ball, and while this may have been against Florida Atlantic, I think Cleare could be capable of those numbers every night.
Cleare made smart decisions with the ball all night long, and perhaps even more impressive was that he took a page out of Charles Mitchell’s book and crashed the offensive glass. His five offensive rebounds were more than I’d ever thought him capable of, and Maryland having 16 of them were largely attributable to him taking up space down low.
Finally, one thing Maryland has been sorely lacking is a credible shot blocker. Tonight they had eight of those, and Cleare had two of those. He did a great job altering shots in the lane without picking up fouls. When he’s on the court not playing carefully because of foul trouble, the Terps just get better.
Others stepped up when the big guns were struggling
No doubt about it, the Terps are usually a very imposing offensive team when Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz are on. The two clearly looked like they had tired legs and cold hands (evidenced by their combined 4-of-22 shooting effort), and that hurt the Terps big time. On most teams, when two of your top three players are struggling, it usually means you lose the game.
Fortunately for Maryland they have a lot of weapons at their disposal. Layman went back to being terrific for the team, and took it upon himself to carry the Terps late. Mostly though, he was finally connecting on shots we all know he’s capable of hitting.
But it was the supporting cast stepping up that really helped Maryland. It felt as if everyone chipped in a little against the Owls. Mitchell had a very efficient game and did well cleaning up the boards on the defensive end. Nick Faust, despite his awful over the backboard shot (which literally broke equipment), did an amazing job distributing the ball to open players. He even chipped in a pair of three pointers for Maryland. And of course Peters made the offense move in transition when it ran the risk of becoming frigid.
I know this sounds like a moral victory, but it isn’t as much as you’d think. The reality is Maryland will eventually need their supporting cast to produce (in the event of a game like this) and they did. When the less heralded guys can put together a good enough performance that the team wins without their stars playing lights out, it’s a big confidence boost. That’s going to make your team better, not worse.
Finally, they didn’t turn the ball over
Maryland only had nine turnovers for the entire game, which gives them yet another outing where they’ve effectively taken care of the ball. People want instant results sometimes, but the Terps seem to be slowly but surely playing less mistake ridden basketball. The wings are starting to make better decisions with the ball, and the big men are passing out of doubles much better. Given that those are two of the team’s worst points, that’s a victory in my book.
You don’t notice it right away, and it’s hard to glean such information from the stats, but the offense doesn’t look nearly as jumbled as before. Yes, they need to hit shots, but I’ll take incremental steps that show improvements in decision making if it mean the team is trending upward.