Down eight points with around six minutes to go in the first half, guard Aaron Wiggins found himself dribbling through traffic on a one-man fast break after an athletic effort to steal the ball from a passing lane.
“Getting that steal, I just wanted to use my length as much as possible to see if I could affect the guards in any way,” Wiggins said. “I used my length, I saw the ball going up top and I just went up and got it.”
In this sequence, his tight handles were essential in providing him open space to finish strong at the basket and cut the lead down to six. It was the start of a 15-6 run that allowed the Terps to close out the half with a 3 point lead over Rhode Island — their first of the game.
Defense was key for Maryland Saturday night, and its towering efforts can be largely attributed to their dominant length. Thus, Maryland was able to come out on top with a 73-55 scoreline that does not quite tell the story of the game.
As Maryland faces tougher opponents, its flaws will inevitably become more apparent. At the start of this matchup, the lack of creativity and movement on the offensive end was detrimental. In the first eight minutes of the game, the Terps accumulated eight turnovers and were flirting with a 10 point deficit.
“We were just out of sync. Give [Rhode Island] credit… they pressured us,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “And we just got used to it as the game went on.”
Maryland trailed 16-9 at the 13-minute mark, as both teams were struggling to put points on the board. But this was primarily a result of disconnected offense and tight officiating rather than stingy defense by either side. Eventually, seven ballooned to 12, as Rhode Island took a 24-12 lead with seven minutes left in the half.
Mistakes were rampant. From kicked ball violations, three travels by Darryl Morsell, missed passes, and wasted possessions, the Terps did nothing but shoot themselves in the foot as the Rams maintained a lead until the final two minutes of the first half.
But with five minutes left, the tide started to turn. Maryland’s offensive woes were neglected by a necessary defensive adjustment, as Turgeon shifted Maryland into a 1-3-1 zone.
“The zone got us going, played a little 1-3-1,” Turgeon said. “kinda rattled them a little bit… it gave us confidence.”
First, a five-point outburst by Eric Ayala, then a huge three by Donta Scott, and suddenly the Terps led 30-29. The defensive change for Maryland cooled down the Rhode Island offense and allowed the Terps to turn turnovers into points. Maryland had a tremendously weak first 15 minutes but was able to turn it around, opening a 35-32 advantage going into the half.
The second half was very different for both sides. As Maryland stretched their lead with an impressive full-court offense, doing damage from the free throw line; the Rams displayed their biggest flaw: Efficiency from the field. Rhode Island shot under 20 percent throughout the second half, and Maryland took full advantage to build a commanding 21 point lead.
“I think we were relieved… we played with much more poise in the second half,” said Turgeon.
In the end, Maryland was far too much defensively and stopped everything Rhode Island threw at it. An ugly first 15 minutes quickly flipped into an almost flawless last 25 minutes of a game that was decided by gritty defense.