Defensively, a step in the right direction
Maryland senior forward Landon Milbourne stood outside the visiting locker room of Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday afternoon and spoke about how liberating it felt to completely control a game from start to finish. The Terrapins had turned in solid performances previously this season, but not until Sunday's 97-63 win did they completely direct the tempo from start to finish.
"We were all in tune in the locker room, and everybody knew what our objectives was for tonight," Milbourne said. "You know, we wrote them down on the board and went out there and conquered them all, so it was real good that everybody was on the same page."
Granted, Maryland's opponent was UNC Greensboro, a Southern Conference squad that now stands 2-11, so it's not as if the Terrapins solved all their problems with one ultra-clean showing. But Maryland did take steps forward -- some more significant than others -- and in no area was that more apparent than in the defensive energy the Terrapins displayed from the opening tip.
After a slew of games in which Maryland's defense was slow to react and in some respects downright sloppy, the Terrapins came out with a fervor unseen in recent weeks. The players guarded their assigned men closer and called out to each other more forcefully.
"We did the most talking we ever did," junior guard Adrian Bowie said. "It was quiet, so it was a lot easier to hear. You know, we could hear each other talk, so it was a great defensive job."
Indeed, the listed attendance for Sunday's game was 3,297, and I can assure you there were far fewer seats actually filled. Regardless, Maryland's renewed defensive focus produced several results, most of which were encouraging.
The Terrapins forced 16 turnovers, which led to numerous transition scoring opportunities. But forcing turnovers hasn't really been an issue for this team.
UNC Greensboro shot 27.5 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from three-point range on Sunday. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that the Spartans aren't the most accurate bunch to start with. But Maryland did hold UNC Greensboro under its season averages entering the game (38.9 percent from the field and 30.9 percent from three-point range).
The one downside to Maryland's defensive hyper-intensity was that it translated, in part, to sending the Spartans to the free throw line a few more times that Coach Gary Williams would like to see. UNC Greensboro made 11 of 11 attempts from the charity stripe in the first half and 11 of 16 in the second half.
Will the Terrapins' defensive progress carry into Sunday's ACC opener against Florida State? It had better, because the Seminoles offer one of the stingiest defenses in the conference themselves.
"We were urgent today," Williams said Sunday. "We really needed this win, obviously. But at the same time, I think we stuck with what we do. We felt before the game that if we did what we were supposed to do, we’d be okay. We’ve been struggling a little bit with that, just to stay with what we do. Today we did it, so I think that was a big factor. And for the players it’s good to see that it works. In other words, you need that positive reinforcement, which we definitely had today."
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