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Terps

Three takeaways from No. 21 Maryland men’s basketball’s win 68-57 over Vermont

The Maryland men’s basketball team wrapped up a three-game stretch in five days by powering through Saturday afternoon for a 68-57 win against visiting Vermont.

From the offense’s miseries in the first half to a pair of physical incidents that ignited the team, here are three takeaways from the No. 21 Terps’ victory before an announced 13,424 at the Xfinity Center in College Park:

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The offense’s first-half woes are troublesome.

For the second straight game, Maryland (3-0) struggled to find its offensive rhythm in the first 20 minutes.

After shooting 37.5% (12-of-32) in the first half of Thursday night’s 71-64 win over George Washington, the Terps were even worse at 32.4% (11-of-34) in Saturday’s opening frame. The players have particularly floundered behind the 3-point line, combining for 10% (2-of-20) in the two first halves.

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Coach Mark Turgeon gave credit to the Catamounts (1-1) for taking advantage and earning a 36-32 lead at halftime. He admitted that he is at a loss for the Terps’ early futility.

“If I had an answer for the shooting, I’d fix it,” he said before noting that the offense has made 19.1% (9-of-47) of its 3-pointers in its past two games. “But they’re good shots. If we’re shooting terrible shots over hands, then I’m worried because our guys aren’t getting it. But we shared the ball today. We just didn’t make shots.”

Graduate student point guard Fatts Russell, the Rhode Island transfer who leads the team in scoring at 16.3 points through the first three games, emphasized his faith in him and his teammates working through the problems.

“There’s no concern,” he said. “We’re going to make shots. We’ve got a lot of shot-makers on the team. I know Coach Turgeon doesn’t have any concerns, and we don’t as well. We make shots every day, and we’re all in the gym 24-7. So they’re going to start falling.”

The defense can go small.

A slight defensive tweak played a significant role in Saturday’s win.

At 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, junior center and Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab is an intimidating presence. But against a quick, motion-heavy opponent like Vermont, Wahab played only 23 minutes, compiling a season-low six points and eight rebounds.

In the second half when Maryland needed defensive stops, Wahab was replaced by 6-9, 230-pound freshman Julian Reese, a St. Frances graduate who played a season-high 20 minutes, and graduate student shooting guard and Old Dominion transfer Xavier Green rotated with starters Hakim Hart and Eric Ayala to limit Catamounts graduate student shooting guard been Shungu to seven of his 27 points in the final 20 minutes.

“Their guys are really good and tough, and they move and they screen,” said Green, who had five rebounds, one steal and one assist. “Q’s a big body, but it’s a lot of movement. So we needed just a smaller group in there. We could still rebound, we could still push it on the break, we can still run through our offense. So going smaller gave us more of a defensive presence just because they’re a good cutting team.”

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Vermont coach John Becker pointed out that Northern Iowa attempted a similar strategy, but could not keep up in a 71-57 win for the Catamounts on Thursday night.

“I thought they matched down to us a little bit there, which was a good thing because the big fella down there is a load,” he said, referring to Wahab. “It was a good coaching move on their part, and it kind of neutralized some of the advantages we had with the smaller lineup.”

Ayala’s feistiness sparked the team.

Ayala tied Russell to lead the Terps in scoring, sinking 13 of his 22 points in that critical second half. But Ayala’s physical play fired up his teammates.

With 6:20 left in the first half, Vermont senior shooting guard Robin Duncan tied up Ayala for the ball in front of the Catamounts bench. Neither player gave up the ball after the whistle, which led to a fracas in which Maryland and Vermont players had to be separated.

Then with 6:18 remaining in the game, the two tangled again and exchanged words after Duncan was whistled for fouling Ayala on a drive to the basket. Both were assessed technical fouls, and Ayala converted two free throws for the original foul on Duncan.

Ayala, who initially declined to delve into the incidents, credited Turgeon with urging the players to play more aggressively.

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“I think we just all kind of felt that energy,” he said. “We’re so talented that teams are going to try to out-tough us this year. We kind of had to make a statement that we’re not one of those teams.”

Turgeon said an official told him that Duncan pushed Ayala first.

“Eric just stood up for himself,” he said. “That kind of got us going, got the fanbase going, got us going. We needed it. I was really on the guys about playing harder. … I thought the second time the scrum happened, they pushed us first again. So we’re not going to back down in those situations. It was good to see a little fire today.”

Green said the team drew from Ayala’s fiery attitude.

“We knew it was going to be a fight,” he said. “When we saw Eric get into it, that gave us some energy, too.”

GEORGE MASON@NO. 21 MARYLAND

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Wednesday, 7 p.m.

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 105.7 FM


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