Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (8-5) vs North Carolina Central Eagles (7-3)
The Time: 2:30 pm EST
The Location: Comcast Center, College Park, MD
The Backstory: The Terrapins are hoping to kick the New Year off on a two-game winning streak after taking down Tulsa 85-74 on Sunday. They’re also hoping that the team will be completely different with the return of their starting point guard and consummate leader Seth Allen.
Allen, who had missed all of this season with a fractured foot, debuted in the Tulsa game with his team down 15 points. What he delivered was a 15 point performance that saw him create shots all over the place and completely change his team’s style of play. Allen dazzled big time against Tulsa, but now he’s going to have to do it against a much tougher opponent.
North Carolina Central, meanwhile, is coming off a loss to Coach Turgeon’s former team Wichita State 77-76 on December 22nd. The 7-3 Eagles have exceeded expectations for their team and seem as though they may be a tournament sleeper given their record. Wins over Winthrop, North Carolina State, and close games vs Cincinnati and Wichita should put Maryland on notice.
The Eagles have one of the leading scorers in the nation in senior guard Jeremy Ingram, who is averaging 24.6 points per game and 1.5 steals. Ingram is a crafty guard not prone to mistakes often, and coupled with fellow senior Alfonzo Houston, the two make a dynamic backcourt for the Eagles (think Pe’Shon before injuries and Terrell Stoglin before ganja). They look to finally get that signature win on their schedule against a Terrapins team that has, amazingly, looked porous at home.
Maryland will win if…
They let Ingram foul himself out…
Look, this kid is good. I’m talking really good, like the type of player who has a solid overseas career good. When I watched tape of him before this game I was struck by how quick his hands were, but even moreso by how often this guy got to the free throw line. Ingram can draw contact like very, very few can, and that’s a skill for his team. He uses that little 175 pound frame to initiate contact, and drives to the lane with no concern for himself.
You might be asking yourself how they beat North Carolina State. Aside from the obvious “Because State” explanation, they really won because Ingram got to the line 21 times and connected on 19 of those shots. He slowed the pace down to a crawl, forced State to play halfcourt sets, and let his team execute at the other end.
One way to beat them, though, is to get him fouled out. Ingram has had four or more fouls in five games already this year, and most of them come because of his reckless style of play. He reaches on the defensive end and drives errantly on the offensive side of things. Thing is, NC Central isn’t winning this game if he’s not playing that style. If Maryland can step into some charges, bait him into trying some thievery, and allow him to take a lot of his errant drives, they’ll create enough chaos to win this game.
Maryland will lose if…
They don’t play a complete game or play effectively in the halfcourt
For once, I’m going to say that if Maryland goes on too many cold spells against the Eagles, they won’t be able to recover. The Terrapins start notoriously slow, and only play one half of basketball more often than not. Their possessions will be limited against NC Central, and they’re not going to be able to put this team away without consistently hitting their shots. That means limiting turnovers and sloppy passes, and more importantly getting a few big men involved. Dez and Faust will also need to get to the line quite a bit against this team if they want to keep pace. When the shot clock starts to dwindle down and there’s no opportunity to score, one of them needs to create it. That includes Seth Allen and Roddy Peters.
That means no slow starts, no lackadaisical play halfway through the game, and hitting their shots early. I liked Layman’s aggressiveness early on last game, and even though his shots weren’t falling, I actually thought he had a really good performance overall. If he continues to play a style that passes up lower percentage shots in favor of ones closer to the rim, the Terps shouldn’t worry about him missing from outside.
That said, if they don’t hit shots and aren’t getting to the line, write them off.