Suffocating defense leads to Maryland’s commanding win over No. 17 Minnesota

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Immediately upon retaining possession of his first offensive board of the game, Liam Robbins found himself surrounded by a pestering Donta Scott and Eric Ayala. After spinning in an attempt to create space, he was met by a third defender in Hakim Hart, who stuffed Robbins’ desperate shot attempt in a crowd of three defenders. 

“We locked in defensively from the first possession,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. 

Maryland’s high level defense, which only seems to reveal itself against some of the best offenses in the conference, was on full display Saturday afternoon. It helped contain Robbins to a meager six point performance, held Minnesota (11-5, 4-5 B1G) to 30% shooting for the contest, and most importantly, it gave Maryland (9-7, 3-6 B1G) its third win on the road against a ranked opponent this season. 

Maryland’s stifling defense produced a 63-49 victory against the Gophers, handing the home side their first home loss of the season.  

The Terps knew they were coming into this contest undersized, so they chose to play to their disadvantage, utilizing their speed to combat Minnesota’s length.

“I started a small lineup just looking for a spark,” Turgeon said. “And it was really good all game.”

As they have attempted all season, the Terps made an effort to ensure every shot taken by their opponents big man would be a hard one. And at his first start at center, Donta Scott — and later Jairus Hamilton — made sure this was the case: fronting Liam Robbins at every possession early and crowding him whenever he had the ball in his hands. Even as Maryland showed the Gophers a new look with a 3-2 defense, the home side still looked rushed, committing turnovers ad nauseam. 

Four Gopher turnovers helped fuel Maryland’s 17-3 start, before Marcus Carr hit a deep three to make his presence known. Carr accounted for 14 of the Gophers final 21 points of the half. And in one sequence, the junior guard shimmied through the once impenetrable Maryland defense in two consecutive possessions. 

Both with a euro step leading into a floater, enough to shrink Maryland’s lead to just three points. Carr, however, without any substantial help, found himself struggling to capture Minnesota’s first lead of the game. And while doing so, Minnesota slid back down to a nine point deficit to close the half. 

“We wanted [Carr] to work for everything,” Turgeon said. “And the other guys missed shots for us, they start making shots, it’s a little bit different.”

The defensive success in the second half continued even as Maryland’s offensive production declined. After missing just one shot in the first half and tallying 14 points, Eric Ayala bricked four field goals to open up the final period. 

His supporting cast followed suit, hitting only two field goals in the first eight minutes of the second half. Minnesota’s offense was abysmal as well but it still inched closer, as Maryland failed to put points on the board closing the gap to six — that was, until Ayala re-emerged.   

Ayala’s single-man five point run, capped off with a corner pocket three just before the u-12 timeout, was enough to put the Terps up 11, a lead that they largely maintained until the final buzzer. 

Maryland forced five early turnovers to keep the Gophers at bay, confusing the home offense with a variety of defensive looks. The Terps’ efforts at the boards helped too, as they out rebounded Minnesota 23-18 in the half and 35-28 for the game. 

The tone was set defensively and it was maintained for a full 40 minutes. Maryland shocked again on the road and looks to sustain its success as it heads back home for a rematch against Wisconsin.  

“This team full of dogs, and we built for this,” said Morsell.

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