Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
If you weren’t watching the Paradise Jam championship, then boy did you miss out on a great game. Maryland very nearly surrendered a 19-point lead by some absolutely horrendous play from about the 12 minute mark of the second half to very nearly the last two minutes. The Terrapins built up a huge lead by holding Providence to 21 points in the first half thanks to the Friars not being able to hit a bucket and the Terps scoring just enough.
Then the second half came, and both teams reversed roles. The game was a classic case of regression to the mean, as Maryland came back down to earth and everyone knew Providence would be incapable of missing every shot they took. Bryce Cotton scored eight of the Friars final ten points with 4:46 remaining and brought them within two with 31 seconds remaining, but it wasn’t enough to overcome their woeful first half and complete the comeback.
Fortunately, the Terrapins have Dez Wells for most of their crunch time games. Wells drained two runners and hit free throws down the stretch to score eight of Maryland’s final twelve points and stave off Providence. He probably couldn’t have done it, though, without a great defensive effort by a cold-shooting Layman (2-of-10 from the floor, 6 points) who had two late blocks to prevent scores and a game sealing free throw with one second remaining.
But we’ve got thoughts on this victory, which puts the Terps at 4-2 and finally gives them a win over a quality opponent, so let’s get into those now…
1.) This team is only halfway there so far, which is still better than last year
Six games into the season (seven if you include Catholic), and you can start to get an idea of what a team is about. For Maryland, that means coming to grips with the reality that this team has yet to put together a complete game offensively and defensively. As it is now they only come in halves, with Maryland averaging 32 points per game in the first half compared to 39 in the second. Essentially, we only get one half out of this team, and they’ve got to make that half count.
Against Providence, it was the first half that they put together completely. The Terps took away the paint entirely and forced the Friars streaky shooters to chuck it to victory, and the plan largely succeeded. Providence was allowed open shots, they just weren’t knocking them down. You have to believe that Turgeon did that by design, actually, but you also had to know that if they kept that strategy up, eventually Bryce Cotton would start hitting. He did, and nearly brought his team back from the brink in the process. Maryland didn’t make adjustments in the second half, and almost surrendered a lead that should have easily been insurmountable.
The good news is that Maryland was clearly tired, and they’re still playing better defense now than they were at this point last season. It’s undoubtedly going to take some time to get all parts clicking, but you have to imagine that by the end of the season, Maryland will be playing a more complete game by the end of the year. Progress is progress.
2.) For yet another game, Maryland limited turnovers and created them
There are two statistics to look at over the past two games that show why Maryland is winning games and coming through in crunch time. The first is their turnover rate. Against Providence, they committed only 11 turnovers; five were committed in the second half. You can’t score the ball if you’re turning it over, and for a Maryland team that challenged turnover norms last year (in a bad way), this is more than welcome.
Maryland has protected the ball very well, and they just look like they run the offense far more fluidly than last season. They also run the defense more effectively. The Terps have 23 steals over the past three games, including six against Providence. And it isn’t just that they’re getting turnovers, it’s that they’re scoring on them as well; Maryland had 11 points off turnovers, and only surrendered seven off turnovers. Those are signs of a defensive minded team that doesn’t give freebies away.
3.) Layman is figuring things out, Smo is starting to
To be sure, Jake Layman took some pretty bad shots against Providence and a few three pointers that Maryland didn’t need at the moment. But what I saw in the second half out of Layman was a man who accepted that he wouldn’t be the leading scorer, but he could still help the team out in different ways. Layman rebounded, blocked shots, stole the ball, and ended up +15 out there because of that recognition. That’s the sign of a good player, and one that will be valuable every game rather than just the ones where he’s knocking down 50% of his shots from everywhere.
Smotrycz was the stat stuffer with 13 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists, and Maryland couldn’t have won this game without his all around contribution. Still, Smo still has a tendency to play out of control and try doing too much simply because he’s a good passer (he had three turnovers). Technically he should be the game MVP and rightly deserves credit for finding open shooters in the late minutes, but he could be better than that.
Smotrycz took shots that no one should attempt that early in the shot clock, and committed some turnovers and fouls that shouldn’t have happened in the dwindling minutes. If he can reign those things in, and continue to rebound like he’s the biggest guy on the roster, Maryland is in good shape.
Bonus: Well, we’ve got 1 1/2 good games out of Shaquille Cleare. His first half against Providence, where he dropped in 7 points (including a big jam) were nice, but then he fell off the map. Cleare missed wide open layups in the second half and failed to score, but more importantly he failed to do much of anything. Cleare is improving every game, but he needs to do it a lot faster and not play well strictly against teams with no big men.