Sharpshooting Terps could enter a danger zone against USC Upstate

Returning from a timeout midway through the first half of Wednesday's game against the Maryland men's basketball team, North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton had his Eagles switch from man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone.

The No. 19 Terps had just gone on a 12-2 run to take control of what had been a tie game inside Xfinity Center. The last two baskets of the spurt were 3-pointers, by junior forward Jake Layman and senior guard Richaud Pack.


The timeout changed nothing. Freshman wing Jared Nickens hit a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions, and even after Moton quickly changed out of zone, the Terps kept scoring.

By halftime, the lead had reached 21 points, and the game was essentially over.

"It was one of those nights that we were good against the zone," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after the Terps won, 67-56. "We worked on zone offense a lot the last two days and we'll work on it Friday. We thought we'd get zoned a little bit more tonight, and [USC] Upstate will zone for 40 minutes."

With victories in five of its past six games after a win Monday over host Georgia Tech, USC Upstate (8-2) should better test Maryland's hot shooting against the zone Saturday when they meet in College Park.

Helped by a freshman class filled with long-range shooters, as well the arrival of North Carolina A&T transfer Pack, the Terps (9-1) have a number of outside-shooting options. That flexibility stands in stark contrast to recent years, when opponents could stymie Maryland because it didn't shoot or pass particularly well against zone defenses.

"We've got good shooters. We've got good passers," Turgeon said. "We're getting better. We've added some things to our zone offense, which helps. It's a very coachable group. They get the ball where you need to get it against a zone to be successful."

After finishing 12th last year in the Atlantic Coast Conference in overall field goal percentage (47.8 percent) and eighth in 3-point shooting (34.2 percent), Maryland is fifth in the Big Ten Conference in overall shooting (55.3 percent) and sixth from beyond the arc (39.3 percent).

Those improvements reflect not only more made shots but also better attempts. While those numbers likely will come down as the level of competition goes up in conference play, the Terps now seem to thrive on finding the open man.

Layman, the lone remaining starter from last season's team currently playing — seniors Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz are still out with injuries — said his own growth as a player has led to more high-percentage shots.

"Now I'm not looking at myself just as a 3-point shooter," said Layman, who is 12th in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (54.7 percent), after shooting 40 percent in each of his first two seasons. "I think I can kind of do it all, in the post and driving, too."

Freshman point guard Melo Trimble said Maryland's abundance of shooters makes the Terps difficult to defend.

"We're all good shooters. If someone hits a 3 on his man, they're going to try to contain him more than the other players, and all we have to do is make that pass and make that open shot," said Trimble, who is shooting 48.1 percent from the field and didn't take a 3-pointer for the first time this season Wednesday.

Trimble said Maryland's new motion offense is predicated on reading what defenses are willing to give the Terps and then reacting, often by driving to the basket.

While Trimble leads the Big Ten in free throws made (70) and is shooting nearly 90 percent from the line, players such as Layman, Pack and freshman guard Dion Wiley also have gotten to the basket for easy looks.


Trimble said that's partly because of their ability to hit from the outside.

"It definitely opens the floor, especially when we do ball screens, because they can't help off the bigs as much and we just get layups," Trimble said.

Pack said that when 7-foot-1 freshman Michal Cekovsky and 6-11 sophomore Damonte Dodd show a willingness to score and an ability to finish around the rim, "it really opens up spacing," and when 3-pointers are falling, "it helps with spacing because they have to guard further out."

USC Upstate should be an interesting test for the Terps. The Spartans rank 17th in the country in points allowed (55.2 per game) and 28th in field-goal defense (36.4 percent). In a 59-54 victory over Georgia Tech, USC Upstate held the Yellow Jackets to 3-for-21 shooting on 3-pointers and 20-for-54 overall.

"It's a really good zone. They have a lot of veteran players who've been around and are smart. They do a good job of taking away the middle of the zone," Turgeon said Friday. "They get their hands on a lot of balls, lot of steals. They do a lot of things that create a lot of havoc with their zone. They rebound well out of it, which is hard to do. It's a tough zone."

Note: Turgeon said Smotrycz, who after reinjuring the left foot he broke in October has sat out the past three games, could play Saturday if there is no residual pain following Friday's practice, his first in nearly two weeks.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun