COLLEGE PARK — By now, Anthony Cowan Jr. probably figures he’ll see five classmates at Maryland suddenly block his way to a chair in study hall with a 2-3 zone. Or maybe have five other students put up a 3-2 zone as he goes to order lunch at the Stamp Student Union.
Or, perhaps, have five more line up in a 1-3-1 zone as he tries to negotiate his car into a parking space. By the look on the junior point guard’s face after Friday night’s 80-69 win over Hofstra, even the mention of the word — ugh, zone — brings a pained expression.
After having success early in the game despite sophomore center Bruno Fernando being benched at the start by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon for an undisclosed reason, it wasn’t until the second half that the Terps started scoring inside — and then outside.
Asked about whether the Terps are getting used to seeing zones on a nightly basis, Cowan said: “We’ve obviously got a lot of zones, so that’s what we’re been practicing a lot and coach has been really hitting it hard and putting in a lot of different things in working through the zone. All we’ve been doing is practicing zones. You’ve just got to work through it.”
The Terps will likely spend most of their preparation for Sunday’s home game against Mount St. Mary’s working on their zone offense, which looked much better in the second half Friday than it has for most of the season. Maryland hit better than 62 percent of its shots and committed just three turnovers after making eight in the first half.
While Maryland is still not hitting a high percentage of 3-point shots — the Terps shot 7-for-22 against Hofstra to raise their season percentage to 25.5 (24-for-94) — it’s apparent that Turgeon is trying to have his team play inside-out by making sure Fernando and freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) get enough touches.
After Maryland was limited again by fouls in the first half, Fernando’s presence and the Terps’ ability to go over the top of Hofstra’s zone with lob passes to the 6-foot-10 Angolan as well as to Smith also helped open things up outside, especially for freshman point guard Eric Ayala and freshman wing Aaron Wiggins.
“Bruno’s a monster. He’s dominant,” Ayala said of Fernando, who made all eight shots he took on lobs, layups and dunks to finish with 17 points. “People just double-teaming him just makes it easier for us to be ready and make shots.”
Ayala, who had missed his first five 3-point shots this season, was 3-for-5 and 5-for-8 overall Friday en route to a season-high 14 points. After missing five of six shots overall and all three of his 3-pointers in the first half, Wiggins hit three of four, including all three of his 3-pointers from the same spot along the baseline.
”His presence is always insane,” Wiggins, who scored 13 points. “Just what he does for our team on the inside, he’s able to get easy buckets. And once he gets a few buckets, teams try to start doubling him. Once they start doubling him, he’s able to kick out and we’re able to get open shots. If we’re hitting shots, that’s a dangerous team.”
That’s what Turgeon is counting on.
To shoot a higher percentage on 3-pointers to get opponents out of their zone defenses, the Terps have spent more time at practice on it, adding a 3-point shooting drill as a regular staple to go along with the team free-throw shooting that typically ends more most practices.
“We’ve been working really hard at shooting the ball,” Turgeon said Friday. “We didn’t get as many good looks in the first half as we did in the second half. We got good looks in the second half because of Bruno. We established him, which is hard to do in a zone, establish a big guy in the middle. … We’ve been doing a lot of shooting lately, and I think it’s starting to carry over.”