Between the Baselines: 1-3-1 zone, defensive adjustments guide Maryland to second victory

Trailing by 12 early in the first half, struggling on both ends of the floor, Maryland basketball head coach Mark Turgeon saw an adjustment was needed. With about six minutes remaining in the first half, Turgeon switched to a 1-3-1 zone to slow down the Rams fast backcourt tandem of Fatts Russell and Jeff Dowtin. 

“The zone got us going, played a little 1-3-1, we hadn’t shown it,” Turgeon said. “It kind of rattled them a little bit and we got our break going, it gave us confidence.”

Turning defense into offense, which set up easy transition opportunities, Maryland closed the half on a 15-4 run giving them a 35-32 halftime lead. Maryland maintained the same defensive intensity and pressure in the second half, holding Rhode Island to 20.6 percent shooting and cruised to a 73-55 victory after an inauspicious start.

Knowing Rhode Island’s struggles from the perimeter, Turgeon employed the zone. Understanding his team’s length, Turgeon thought the zone could flummox the Rams offense, forcing them to attack a look they hadn’t seen yet. With either sophomore Aaron Wiggins or junior Darryl Morsell at the top, their length and lateral quickness forced the Rams into quick decisions and stifled their ability to throw cross court passes. 

“I used my length and I just tried to affect the guards who were handling the ball up top,” Wiggins said. 

Throughout the offseason, Wiggins made it a point of emphasis to improve his lateral quickness and improve his defense overall. To do so, he utilized a slide board. Coach Turgeon explained that Olympic skiers and figure skaters use it to help improve their lateral movement.

“It’s helped a lot, defensively I feel like I’m able to move side to side even up and down a little bit,” Wiggins said of the slideboard. “The game of basketball is just about making cuts and being able to slide your feet, so it’s made a huge difference in terms of being able to get stops and defend.”

That hard work was on display tonight. Wiggins finished with three steals for the second consecutive game. Trailing 26-18 with 6:15 left in the first half, Wiggins provided exactly the spark Maryland had been searching for.

Standing just behind the Maryland logo at center court, Wiggins jumped up and snagged freshman Gregory Hammond’s pass out of mid air intended for junior Fatts Russell. Seeing the pass all the way, Wiggins stole the ball and drove past several defenders for the crafty scoop finish. The crafty lay-in served as the catalyst for Maryland’s run and brought some energy back to a previously subdued crowd.

“That fast break it kind of changed the game for us,” Wiggins explained. “We got a little bit of momentum, we started to get our heads back in the game a little.”

Transitioning that stifling defense into the second half, the Terps held Rhode Island to 23 second half points and made it earn every single bucket. Improved ball screen defense and post defense allowed Maryland to continue building their lead. With such quick guards, Rhode Island often ran high ball screens looking to set up their guards with a potential mismatch on a big. The Terps adjusted to those sets in the second half.

“I thought all our guys did a great job of keeping the ball in front of them,” Turgeon said. “Our ball screen defense was better.” 

In addition to the high ball screens, setting up Cyril Langevine in good position on the block was a focal point all night for the Rams. However, with the presence of Morsell and Donta Scott down low, Langevine couldn’t build any momentum in the second half. When Langevine was doubled down low, the Terps defense as a unit did an excellent job communicating of potential skip passes. 

“The second half, I thought Darryl and [Donta Scott] did a great job of fronting the post, making it hard on them,” Turgeon said. “Making them skip, making them throw over and then our double team was good.” 

With almost a week off, Maryland will have time to improve their offensive efficiency and continue building on their strong defensive effort, before hosting Oakland next Saturday at noon.