Maryland freshman guard Eric Ayala talks about the play of the team’s freshmen in Tuesday’s 70-56 win over No. 12 Purdue. (Don Markus, Baltimore Sun video)
The Maryland men’s basketball office at Xfinity Center is church-quiet and eerily calm Sunday morning, given the roller-coaster nature of the Terps’ season. What has turned into the biggest game of the season — against No. 12 Purdue — is just two days away.
Video coordinator Greg Manning Jr. and student manager Brandon Scott will spend the hours before practice scouring over hundreds of video clips showing the offensive and defensive tendencies of the Boilermakers.
The matchup is not only with the Big Ten’s hottest team, which has won eight straight games, but with the league’s leading scorer, junior guard Carsen Edwards. It would also be the No. 24 Terps’ first home game in two weeks.
“It’s not that they run a ton of stuff, but they have a million options off their stuff,” says Manning, in his first season as the team’s video coordinator.
Manning and the student managers will break down each play Purdue has run in the five games leading up to facing Maryland, meaning they had yet to finish the Boilermakers’ win over Nebraska from the previous night by the start of Sunday practice.
By detailing how many times the Boilermakers run each play and putting them in a computer file, they want to make coach Mark Turgeon’s job of implementing Tuesday’s game plan a lot easier.
“What takes me 20 hours, Coach [Turgeon] can watch in two hours,” said Manning, whose father, Greg Sr., played at Maryland from 1977-81 and spent 15 seasons as a radio analyst calling Terps games.
Of course, much of Manning's focus — as well as Turgeon’s — is on what plays the Boilermakers run for Edwards, as well as how Purdue, compared to other teams, will guard Maryland sophomore center Bruno Fernando.
Manning stops on one play involving Edwards driving through traffic, contorting his muscular 6-foot-1 body in mid-air and scoring.
“I don’t know how you guard that,” says Manning, who played point guard at Loyola Maryland. “You have any suggestions?”
Manning scrolls down on his computer screen to Purdue’s defensive tendencies, highlighted in red.
“It’s all in the way they double the post,” Manning says. “You could see where they’re coming from, their rotations and that kind of stuff. They’re doubling with the other big. What that means is that it’s probably going to be Bruno [being doubled] and they’re going to go off ‘Stix’ [Jalen Smith].”
Along with making every Purdue play available to Turgeon, Manning also puts together a package for assistant coach Kevin Broadus, who’s in charge of preparing the Purdue scouting report to show the players before Monday’s practice.
“I think the hardest part is what to show the guys,” Manning says. “There’s so much, and you have to figure out how to show them the most important things that they’ll remember. You can’t show them 50 plays or their heads will explode.”
Much of the way Maryland prepares a game plan changed this season. Turgeon acknowledges that in the past he got too caught up in the matchups with the opponents, sometimes to the detriment of his own team.
“I thought late last year — every year’s different — but I thought we were putting too much into our opponent, I didn’t think we were getting better,” Turgeon says before practice Monday.
Class is in session
Before practice Monday afternoon, Turgeon, the staff and the players gather in the team lounge across from the locker room to watch a few minutes of tape detailing the strengths of each player in Purdue’s rotation.
Turgeon sits quietly in the back row on the aisle, with assistants Bino Ranson and Matt Brady. Director of basketball performance Kyle Tarp and director of basketball operations Mark Bialkoski fill out the seats on the row.
The players take up the rest of the seats to watch Broadus go over the video. It takes only about 20 minutes, but it will prove to be a valuable part of the team’s victory the following night.
“Big game for us,” says Broadus, 55, a former head coach at Binghamton who joined the staff before last season after his second stint as an assistant at Georgetown. “It’s not going to make or break our season, but if we win, it’s going to put us where we need to be.”
Broadus goes through several of Purdue’s players, pointing out how the right-handed Edwards likes to shoot his 3-pointers going to his left and junior guard Ryan Cline, also right-handed, prefers going more conventionally to his right.
Particular attention is paid to Edwards, who has emerged as one of the favorites for Big Ten Player of the Year.
“You can’t go to sleep on this guy,” Broadus says. “He’s got an uncanny ability to make bad shots.”
No. 24 Maryland's 70-56 win over No. 12 Purdue Tuesday at Xfinity Center followed a similar script to several recent meetings with the Boilermakers, but provided a different and much happier ending for the Terps.
When Broadus gets to Grady Eifert, a 6-6, 220-pound senior who starts at power forward, Broadus stops the tape. He speaks directly to Smith, who was barely a factor in a 62-60 loss at Purdue on Dec. 6.
“Stix, you’ve got to be the best player on the floor when he comes in,” Broadus implores.
Broadus then goes over Purdue’s main offensive sets.
“We’ve got to run these guys off the [3-point] line and we’ve got to make them take tough 2-point shots,” he says. “If we don’t let them get easy transition points, we’re in business.”
Practice makes perfect
Early in Tuesday night’s game, the Boilermakers are doing a much better job executing their game plan than Maryland is at figuring out what Purdue is going to run — Edwards in particular.
Edwards scores his team’s first eight points despite tough defense by sophomore guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph). It doesn’t help that the Terps miss their first seven shots, five of them by Smith.
It’s not just Edwards, who scores 17 points in the first half and whose steal and dunk gives the Boilermakers an 11-point lead with 3:28 left in the half. It’s also Cline, who makes all three of his 3-pointers — going to his right.
The last of them comes with four seconds left in the half and Maryland, which had cut its deficit to three with 48 seconds remaining, now trails by eight, 38-30, at halftime.
Broadus says he wasn't that upset with how the Terps played in the first half or how Morsell guarded Edwards, who was 6-for-14 from the field at halftime, including 2-for-8 on 3-pointers.
“It actually played out the way we wanted it to,” Broadus recalls Thursday. “As bad it seemed we were playing the first half, we really were playing well. We just were at home down eight. It all played out in the second half, because all those shots they made the first half, they didn’t come close to making the second half.”
Maryland does a much better job of following its defensive game plan in the second half.
Edwards starts forcing shots, including an airballed 3-pointer, and misses 11 of 13 attempts in the half, finishing 8-for-27 for the night. Cline goes 0-for-7 in the second half, including five missed 3-pointers.
As a team, Purdue misses 30 of the 36 shots it attempts in the half and scores a season-low 18 points after the break.
“Our defense was terrific,” Turgeon says after the game. “You can’t say enough about Darryl Morsell and Anthony Cowan on those two kids, just chasing them around. Our big guys need to get credit, too, because on every handoff and ball screen they stayed a long time and showed hard and played without fouling, and really wore them down as the game went on.”
Maryland’s offensive execution is also much better at the beginning of the second half. The Terps start the second half on a 10-2 run to tie the game at 40. With the game still tied at 50, a 3-pointer by freshman wing Aaron Wiggins starts a game-closing 20-6 run.
Turgeon says at halftime he spent more time pumping up his young team’s confidence than scheming.
“It wasn’t about X’s and O’s. It was about changing our body language, believing we could win and play well,” he says.
But some strategy was involved.
“We did change some things offensively,” he says. “We ran guys off baseline, played through the post. Because we scored early in the second half, it gave us confidence.”
The Terps also make a key second-half adjustment on defense, by playing Morsell or another bigger guard on Edwards while using a smaller guard on Eifert or freshman Aaron Wheeler, “so they couldn’t pick and pop,” Broadus says. Eifert and Wheeler combined for 22 points in the teams’ first meeting, but are held to five Tuesday.
Broadus gives a lot of credit to Turgeon, who has often been criticized for not making noticeable second-half adjustments.
“His adjustments were unbelievable,” Broadus says. “Those adjustments go unseen to the normal fan and probably to the media. That adjustment [guarding the power forward] then changed the whole complexion of the game.”
Crediting the scouting report
As much attention as was paid to the offensive outburst by three of Maryland’s freshmen — Smith, who scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the second half, combining with Wiggins and point guard Eric Ayala to score 21 straight Terps points in one stretch and combine for 42 overall — it was the defense that won the game.
Fernando is asked how the scouting report played into the victory given how good an offensive team Purdue can be.
“I think the scouting report helped us a lot,” Fernando says. “Just recognizes, like game situations and double screens and whenever they tried to get pin-downs for open shots for Carsen Edwards or the other guy, Cline. They’ve got a lot of plays and sometimes they got us confused on the court. It’s just about us staying connected and talking on defense. That was the main thing tonight.”