COLLEGE PARK — A second straight home game against a nonconference foe that saw No. 7 Maryland in an early deficit again ended in a comfortable victory. Here are three takeaways from the Terps’ 80-50 victory over Oakland on Saturday.
Aaron Wiggins’ offseason work on his defense is showing early dividends.
Sophomore guard Aaron Wiggins has recorded exactly three steals in each of Maryland’s first three games. With that, he’s already more than a third of the way to his freshman season total of 26 steals.
Of course, 16 of those came in 14 nonconference games, whereas he managed only 10 in 20 Big Ten contests. Wiggins said Saturday that the start of league play last season provided a wake-up call of sorts to the value of defense in college basketball.
“Once you get to conference play, these teams, they run their sets and they execute their plays, so you have to be able to defend, you have to know your scouting report and you have to be prepared to guard some of the best players in the nation and in college basketball,” Wiggins said. “It was definitely one thing that stood out last year, I realized how important defense is coming into this league.”
Wiggins spent his offseason working on his defensive quickness and foot movement. Darryl Morsell, a junior guard whonormally makes his impact on the defensive end but scored 14 points Saturday, said he’s enjoyed watching Wiggins’ improvement.
“Aaron’s a hard worker,” Morsell said. “He’s always been somebody that embraces defense. It’s just something that he had to learn. I think through his freshman year, he learned how important defense was to winning games. In the offseason, that was something that he really focused on. He’s definitely stepped it up this year defensively. He’s one of our better on-ball defenders on the perimeter. Just with his size and his length, he’s able to create turnovers and cause havoc.”
And Wiggins hopes to cause more.
“Seeing it paying off, it’s just one thing I’ve got to continue to work on,” he said. “Can’t just be satisfied with what it is, so I’ve got to continue to work, and I can definitely see improvement.”
Maryland added a new wrinkle to its defense.
After a switch to zone defense helped the Terps bounce back from a 12-point deficit against Rhode Island, coach Mark Turgeon worked another defensive set into practice this week.
Maryland used a full-court press Saturday, a defense that the team walked through Friday before using it in Saturday’s game.
“He wasn’t planning on using it today, but he trusted us, and he knew that we were capable of bringing it out and being able to make a difference,” Wiggins said. “As soon as we got into it, we got a steal and a bucket off it, so it just shows how matured our team is and how we’re able to make adjustments, whether there’s something new or something old to us, we’re able to make adjustments and figure it out.”
The Terps forced a season-high 19 turnovers, scoring 25 points off them.
As Maryland practices the press more, it should also help the other end of the ball.
“It makes us so much better,” Wiggins said. “We practice against zone every day, practice against man-to-man, the press, so it makes us more comfortable with the ball when we get into those situations in games because you never know what a team’s going to throw at you, and we’re always prepared just because of the way we play so many different defenses.”
Picking up the pace sealed the deal.
Through nearly 10 minutes of play Saturday, Maryland scored only 12 points and was down by four. Over the final 30:02, the Terps outscored Oakland 68-34.
In that span, Maryland attempted 45 shots, compared with 12 through the first 9:58.
“The game was being played slow, and that was the pace [Oakland] wanted it to be played at,” Morsell said.
But once the Terps were able to get some defensive stops and get out in transition, the pace and their offense picked up. After committing eight turnovers in the first 11:31, Maryland had five over the remainder of the game.
“The way the guarded took us a while to get used to,” Turgeon said. “They’re big, they’re long, they’re athletic, that had a lot to do with it, too. We weren’t getting any second shots. Once we got used to the defense, it made all the difference.”
Turgeon said some of the need for an adjustment was intentional. The Grizzlies switched on every ball screen, he said, but it wasn’t something he had the Terps prepare for in practice.
“I do it for a reason, so guys could learn in the game and work on their own,” he said. “They adjust during the game. You have to teach guys to adjust quickly in games.”
Once Maryland adjusted, it showed why it’s the No. 7 team in the country.