By: Eric Myers
After scoring 104 points, the most in Mark Turgeon’s eight-year tenure at Maryland, against Marshall on Friday night, the No. 24 Terrapins prepare to face Tony Bennett’s historically staunch defense and No. 4 Virginia.
Maryland’s young roster will look to carry over the momentum of their most complete game of the season to Wednesday night’s primetime matchup that pits two undefeated teams against one another at the Xfinity Center.
“I think we’ve gotten better every game in some phase,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “To be up 46 against anybody is hard to do. Are we more confident? Absolutely. We just feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”
In the past five seasons, Virginia has ranked first in the nation in scoring defense four times, with the only exception being in the 2015-16 season when they finished second. Virginia’s stingy defense has continued the first six games of this season, as it stands second in the nation in points allowed at just over 49 per game.
“It’s tremendous defense. They have good size and length at all their positions and I think it’s made their defense even better [this year],” Turgeon said.
Maryland’s roster boasts a balanced lineup of scoring as five players are averaging over 10 points per game. The Terrapins’ scoring output is led by Anthony Cowan, 16.8 points per game, and Bruno Fernando, who is averaging 16.2.
In Bennett’s patented pack line man-to-man defense, Cowan will face heavy pressure from his defender as one of the primary ball handlers. Meanwhile, when Fernando catches the ball in the post, Virginia will likely double team him, just as they did to Ethan Happ against Wisconsin earlier this year.
As the Cavaliers try to limit opportunities around the rim for Fernando, who is shooting over 77 percent in the early season, the sophomore big man will need to remain composed when facing double teams. If extra attention is placed on Fernando, shooters on the outside will have the chance to make the Cavaliers pay.
In that group of shooters who could have open looks, there are three freshmen– Eric Ayala, Serrel Smith and Aaron Wiggins. Two other freshmen, Jalen Smith and Ricky Lindo Jr., are also key players on the Maryland team whose freshmen play 52 percent of the minutes.
“I told [the freshmen] tomorrow’s going to be the biggest game that you’ve probably played in,” Cowan said. “‘Just come in, play free, but also try to expect to win’”
Virginia returns to the country after playing in the “Battle 4 Atlantis” tournament in Nassau, Bahamas, where they won three games, including the championship game over then No. 25 Wisconsin. The championship game was a low-scoring affair as the final result was 53-46.
That slow-paced, low scoring style of play is a stark contrast from what Maryland saw against Marshall, who looked to get out in transition and score early in the shot clock. Despite the different style of play, Maryland’s players still hold confidence ahead of their top-25 matchup.
“We have always been confident. Obviously we face different types of games, different teams that we play, but I think our confidence remains the same,” Fernando said.