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Maryland basketball quandary: Go inside or launch 3-pointers

With a team that features four players shooting better than 35 percent on 3-pointers, two at 40 percent or above, it's not difficult to figure out why Maryland coach Mark Turgeon doesn't fret about the Terps launching freely from long distance.

Still, with a team that features starters Jake Layman, Robert Carter Jr. and Damonte Dodd and sixth man Diamond Stone at 6 feet 9 or taller, there are times when it seems the Terps should be taking advantage of their size with dunks and layups rather than trying to make 3-pointers.

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Such was the quandary in Saturday's 72-59 victory at Northwestern. Maryland came out firing from the beginning — and in the case of sophomore point guard Melo Trimble, misfiring for much of the first half — en route to taking a season-high 31 3-pointers, hitting 11.

It was the third most in a game during Turgeon's five seasons at Maryland, one short of the 32 the Terps took in successive games in 2013-14 against Clemson (making nine in a game that went to two overtimes) and Virginia Tech (hitting 10) and five short of the school-record 37 tried in a 2006 game against Missouri-Kansas City.

Going into tonight's game against Rutgers, the same question that followed the now third-ranked Terps (13-1, 2-0 Big Ten Conference) to Evanston, Ill., will accompany them into Xfinity Center. Against a team with an injury-depleted front line, it's a question of whether Maryland will penetrate or pull up and shoot.

Or, as eventually happened against Northwestern, a little of both.

"I think the other night, we shot a few too many" 3-pointers, Turgeon said Tuesday before practice. "I thought in the first half, on the break, we settled [for outside shots]. Melo missed a couple, so then he goes in and shoots a layup, probably could have done that a couple of other times.

"It's a fine line because I think every time Melo shoots [a 3-pointer], he's going to make it. I think every time Jared [Nickens] shoots it he's going to make it. On down the line, Jake Layman, Jaylen Brantley. I think they're all going to make them."

With Trimble and senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon as capable of hitting open 3-pointers as of finding open teammates for shots both inside and outside, much will depend on the kind of defense the Scarlet Knights use. In the past two games, Northwestern and Penn State tried to play packed-in zones.

Maryland is shooting a more-than-respectable 39.3 percent on 3-point shots, ranking the Terps fourth in the 14-team conference.

"We recruit that way," Turgeon said. "If teams are going to zone us, we've got to make them pay as much as we can."

The 1-2-2 zone used by the Wildcats for most of the game Saturday seemed to be as much a response to Stone's scoring a school freshman-record 39 points against Penn State last week as an expression of their concern with Maryland's shooters.

While Stone was held to 10 points, the Maryland backcourt combined for 40 — including 17 in the second half by Trimble — to go along with 14 assists, 14 rebounds and just one turnover.

Sulaimon, who leads the team in 3-point shooting at 50 percent (27-for-54) and is second behind Trimble in assists (3.9 per game), said Maryland's offensive versatility makes the Terps difficult to defend, even against a zone. After missing all five of his shots against Penn State, Sulaimon hit his first five Saturday.

"It's just playing basketball," Sulaimon said Tuesday. "We think we have great big men who can finish inside and we also think we have great shooters that can light it up from outside. It's just about getting a good shot and that just comes down to offensive execution."

With center Greg Lewis (St. Frances) the only Rutgers player who stands at least 6-9, it seems more than likely that the Scarlet Knights (6-9, 0-2) will use a zone to try to slow the Terps, who are one of the best teams in the country at finishing around the basket.

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Maryland is first in the Big Ten in 2-point shooting (59.1 percent) and first in free-throw shooting (76.5 percent).

Unlike last season, when the Terps relied mostly on the perimeter scoring of Trimble and former star Dez Wells, Turgeon has the option of going inside to Stone, now the team's second-leading scorer behind Trimble at 13.1 points per game, and Carter, who is third at 12.5 per game and has led Maryland in scoring as often as Trimble (four times).

"We score when it's time to score down there," said Carter, who was among the Big Ten leaders in 2-point field goal percentage before going 5-for-17 on 2-pointers over his past two games. Carter's numbers were offset by the fact that Stone combined to shoot 14-for-19 against Penn State and Northwestern.

Carter said he and Stone, as well as Dodd and 7-foot sophomore Michal Cekovsky, "use our size in different ways, we make plays for others," alluding to the passes out of double teams to open shooters as well as the "big-to-big" passing that Maryland has used effectively near or above the rim.

"We use our size pretty much as we should," Carter said.

Asked to compare this Maryland team to last year's, Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said: "It's like the American dream, man, the rich get richer and the guys at the bottom of the ladder are going to struggle. It's a great opportunity for us to measure ourselves on their home court."

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