Combination of red hot shooting and stifling defense leads Maryland men’s basketball to win over Navy

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Less than a minute into the second half, Navy guard John Carter Jr. struggled with the Terps 2-2-1 press, losing the ball out of bounds, looking to dribble around Maryland’s furious defensive pressure.

On the ensuing offensive possession, junior Aaron Wiggins drew a double team and delivered one of his career-high six assists to Galin Smith who threw down a thunderous jam letting out an emphatic scream. That sequence encapsulated Maryland’s efficiency offensively and its ability to use defense as a catalyst in an 82-52 win over Navy.

Overall, the Terps shot 68.2% from the field, their highest percentage in a game since Dec. 4, 2015, and the fifth highest total ever in program history. While Maryland was firing on all cylinders offensively, much of that can be attributed to the relentless defensive mentality that comes with playing with the 2-2-1 press.

“I think it’s [Coach Turgeon] giving us the freedom to kind of run and jump, and to pressure the offense,” Wiggins said of the press. “It just gets our energy up a little bit and it gets us playing at a little bit faster pace. When we can pressure the offense and make them get out of control it only gets us going.”

Maryland’s offensive balance was also on full display as four of five starters put up double figures and 10 different players scored. Smith and Hakim Hart finished with a career-high 12 and 11 points respectively. In addition to Smith and Hart, the veteran trio of Darryl Morsell, Eric Ayala and Wiggins scored 15, 15, and 14 points.

Despite the lopsided victory, the first half was mostly a back and forth affair. Over the opening ten minutes, both teams were in an offensive groove early exchanging baskets. Carter scored five early points for the Midshipmen, but struggled to find his shot after that.

However, for the Terps, Smith and Morsell keyed the offensive success combining for 19-first half points. Morsell scored seven of Maryland’s first 11 points of the game, displaying his improved mid-range and outside shooting game. Smith used his size and strength to establish a strong position inside, finishing several baby-hooks.

“[Galin] had a really solid game, we ran the first play for him and that probably gave him some confidence,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “He’s really good at finding holes and understanding ball screen offense, it was good to see him play well.”

Although Navy found success on offense early, the Midshipmen struggled to score as the first half progressed. Similar to Wednesday’s matchup against Old Dominion, Turgeon elected to employ the aforementioned press, which forced the Midshipmen to settle for more perimeter jumpers later in the shot clock.

While Navy navigated the press initially, the final eight minutes of the first half it struggled mightily. Over that span, Navy scored just five points including a 5:30 stretch without a basket. When the Midshipmen struggled to score, Maryland’s offense hit its stride as the Terps executed a 10-0 run to take a 30-20 lead.

Ayala began the run with a driving layup in the lane, followed by a mid-range jumper from Morsell. Then, Smith converted back-to-back interior hook shots using his size and strength to rise over Daniel Deaver for the contested finish. Finally, Ayala closed out the run with a crafty layup– another example of his assertiveness from the point guard position.

However, Navy continued to battle, bouncing back with a brief 5-0 run of its own, cutting the deficit to 30-25 with 2:06 remaining. The final two minutes, both teams struggled to protect the ball and the Terps entered the half with a 32-25 lead. 

Despite Maryland’s seven-point halftime lead, the Terps turned the ball over nine times in the first half duplicating their entire game total from Wednesday’s win against Old Dominion. Although those nine turnovers took away several possessions, Maryland was pretty efficient offensively shooting 60% from the field in the first half.

Maryland carried that same energy defensively into the beginning moments of the second half executing a 10-3 run over the opening four minutes. The Terps were flying all over on both ends of the floor, utilizing their length and athleticism. During that run, Ayala knocked down two threes accompanied by Smith’s ferocious dunk giving the Terps a double-digit lead once again.

“We knew the first four minutes of the second half were important,” Morsell said. “We’re veteran guys, we all know that’s the turning point. We tried to get out and press, speed the game up and use our length and athleticism. Great defense by our guards, it’s something we practice all the time.”

When it seemed like Maryland gained firm control with a 17-point lead, guard Cam Davis bounced back for Navy knocking down consecutive threes, which cut the deficit to 47-36 with 11:21 left. However, Navy’s momentum didn’t last very long due to Wiggins catching fire offensively. After being held scoreless in the first half, he put together an 8-0 run of his own knocking down two threes and burying a stepback mid-range jumper.

“We had a lot of guys play well, but it was nice to see that little stretch that [Aaron] had when he kind of took over the game there,” Turgeon said.

For the remainder of the game, Maryland maintained at least a 15-point advantage. When Navy trimmed the deficit to 17, Maryland’s offensive firepower struck once again. The Terps executed a 12-0 run, putting a stranglehold on the game with 4:22 remaining. That run epitomized Maryland converting defense into offense with several baskets off turnovers and an impressive three-point play by Hart following up a missed shot.

During the final four minutes, Maryland continued to play with the same relentless defensive effort and the Midshipmen continued to struggle offensively. With eight seconds left, freshman Markus Dockery scored his first points as a Terp putting the finishing touches on an all-around phenomenal performance.

That defensive ferocity has brought the Terps great success and has served as the leading driver in Maryland’s efficient offense to start the season. Maryland doesn’t have long to rest, however, as the Terps host Mount St. Mary’s at the Xfinity Center on Sunday.

“It’s really great playing with this team,” Morsell said. “We could do a lot of different things and we enjoy playing with each other. We all get happiness from anybody scoring.”