Between the Baselines: Strong post defense and quick transition offense guide Maryland basketball to victory

In both of the first two games this season, Maryland’s stifling defense has been the story. Saturday afternoon was no different. The Terps’ defense was the catalyst for their offense, forcing 19 turnovers and guiding Maryland to a dominant 80-50 victory. Transitioning defense to offense, Maryland finished with 30 fastbreak points and 25 points off turnovers.

“It’s fun, we’re getting stops on defense or we’re getting turnovers, and that’s something we definitely harp on,” guard Darryl Morsell said. “It’s something we work on, fast break defense as well as fast break offense, to see the success translate to the game is a good thing.”

Maryland struggled in the early stages, battling back and forth with Oakland for the first 11 minutes of the game. It took some time for Jalen Smith and Makhel Mitchell to adapt to Brad Brechting’s physicality, — the Oakland big man’s 6 foot 11 frame caused them problems inside. However, for the final nine minutes of the first half, Maryland played stifling low post defense, holding the Golden Grizzlies to just three made field goals.

“We were able to do something different today, we were doubling the post big-big,” head coach Mark Turgeon explained. “I was really proud of that and how we rotated out of it, so that’s a start for us.”

Entering the game, Maryland expected Oakland’s to capsize on its length in the post and run their offense from inside. After they adjusted, Maryland’s big men did a good job of fronting the post, not allowing Brechting and Xavier Hill-Mais to get good position on the low block. The Terps’ guards also did their part, fighting under screens and crowding passing lanes.

“We kind of started instead of hedging hard fighting over screens, we went under screens and let our bigs sit back so they could have good post position,” Morsell said.

No three-minute stretch better exemplified the Terps stout defensive performance better than the final 2:44 of the first half, where the Golden Grizzlies went scoreless and Maryland executed an 11-0 run to build a 35-22 halftime lead. 

“It was great,” Turgeon said of the run. “We just made shots, we made plays and I think we just kept guarding and that’s how we were able to do it.”

With the Terps up by eight, and 45 seconds remaining, they produced a sequence that represented their entire performance. Brechting made an aggressive drive to the basket, but was stuffed by Jalen Smith. After grabbing the rebound, Smith threw an outlet pass to Anthony Cowan Jr who rewarded him on the other end with a lob for an empathic finish. On the ensuing possession, Smith once again skillfully contested the shot of guard Trey Maddox Jr. The Terps then pushed in transition, leading to a wide-open buzzer-beating three from the corner from Aaron Wiggins. 

Despite being up 13 at the half, Maryland’s defensive intensity only intensified in the second period as Turgeon employed a full court press. Introduced in practice this week, Maryland executed the press to perfection, forcing the Golden Grizzlies into several turnovers, including a ten second violation. Oakland had trouble navigating the Terps length and couldn’t make quick enough decisions with the ball to penetrate the press.

“[Coach Turgeon] trusted us and he knew that we were capable of bringing out [the press] and it being able to make a difference,” Wiggins said. “As soon as we got into it, we got a steal and a bucket, it just shows how mature our team is.”

In addition to using the press, Maryland’s defense in the second half changed to a run and jump style, increasing the pace. With a quicker mindset, Maryland executed a 14-3 run to catapult their lead to 25 with 12:28 remaining. Morsell, who scored a team-high 14 points, highlighted the run, knocking down two threes with poise and confidence.

“I’m an athlete. I like to run. I like to get up and down,” Morsell said. “I kind of told the guys at halftime we got a lot of athletes, let’s make this a track meet, we’re deep.”

Maryland will look to continue pushing the pace in transition and playing strong low-post defense hosting Fairfield on Tuesday.