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Maryland has its 'rim protector' back in Damonte Dodd

Maryland has its 'rim protector' back in Damonte Dodd
Xavier Sneed of the Kansas State Wildcats and Damonte Dodd (35) of the Maryland Terpsfight for a rebound during the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic at Barclays Center on Nov. 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon has often said players who've been sitting out with injuries are the final judges when it comes to returning to the court, even after being given the OK to play by the team's doctor or trainer.

"I don't think I ever rushed anybody back from an injury. It's usually the player's call on everything," Turgeon said last week, when asked about the statuses of injured centers Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky.

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On New Year's morning, Dodd was resolute. The 6-foot-11 senior decided that sitting out five games for what he later described as a partially torn MCL in his left knee was long enough.

He would play against Nebraska that afternoon.

Dodd, who injured the knee in practice two days after a one-point win over Oklahoma State on Dec. 3, played 13 minutes against the Cornhuskers, finishing with six points, four rebounds and a blocked shot in a 67-65 defeat.

Turgeon said Thursday that he was "pleasantly surprised" by Dodd's performance after being out so long.

"I wasn't expecting that much out of him," Turgeon said. "I thought he was in decent shape considering the knee injury. I thought he was active. The best part was when the game ended, his knee was no worse for the wear. So he was a little further along than I thought."

Walking to get treatment on his left knee Wednesday afternoon at Xfinity Center, Dodd acknowledged he "might have come back a little early" and that the knee was a little sore.

"It's just a process I have to go through," Dodd said.

As long as there are no setbacks, Dodd is likely to make his first start since the Oklahoma State game when Maryland (13-2, 1-1 Big Ten) plays at Michigan (11-4, 1-1) on Saturday.

Dodd's injury came after one of the best all-around performances of his career. He finished with 12 points, including 10 in the second half, to go with eight rebounds and three blocked shots in 24 minutes against the Cowboys.

It was the second injury of the season for Dodd, who sat two games after suffering a concussion against Towson on Nov. 20. Dodd conceded that the initial knee pain from his latest injury scared him.

"At first I thought it was my ACL, the way it felt, the way I was walking," he said. "I've never really hurt nothing [before in the knee], so I didn't know. I just tried to remain positive. When we got the MRI back and it was just an MCL slight tear, it was like, 'This is something I can deal with.'"

Dodd's return coincided with Maryland's first loss in more than a month. After turning an eight-point second-half deficit into a 13-point lead with 8:37 to go, the Terps lost when the Cornhuskers scored the last 14 points and 16 of the last 17. Nebraska scored on its last seven possessions.

"I just think the last few minutes we couldn't score, and they were getting everything they wanted," Dodd said. "We were letting our defense affect our offense. The mindset was, 'Now we're in a close one.' We shouldn't have been in a close one. That was an eye-opener for us."

After sustaining the concussion in November, Dodd no longer had a firm grip on his starting position with Cekovsky much improved.

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It isn't clear what Turgeon will do when Cekovsky comes back. But Dodd hasn't changed his mindset since last season, when he started from early December through late January and eventually backed up freshman Diamond Stone, now a rookie with the Los Angeles Clippers.

"It doesn't matter if I start or not. You've just got to come in and impact the game," said Dodd, who made 31 starts as a sophomore.

Dodd seemed like a different player against the Cornhuskers, if not in terms of productivity then perhaps as far as the level of aggressiveness he showed, particularly in the second half.

"I would say that," Dodd said. "I was kind of nervous coming back, with my knee. It was still kind of bothering me. I was just trying to pick my poison as to how I was to help the team. The opportunity presented itself — I got some easy rebounds and some easy looks. I just tried to be aggressive going to the rim."

When healthy, Dodd has had his most productive season since coming to Maryland from Massanutten Military Academy, a prep school in Woodstock, Va., where he spent a year after graduating from Queen Anne's County in Centreville.

Dodd is averaging 5.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots in 17 minutes per game — all career highs. At this stage of his career, Dodd understands what he needs to do to stay on the court in order for the Terps reach their goal of a third straight NCAA tournament appearance.

It hasn't changed that much since he got into the rotation as a sophomore.

"Coming off the injury, my role is still the same," Dodd said. "Energy guy, defense, blocked shots, rebounds, score when the opportunity presents itself. Things like that. And I like that role. It's a role I'm comfortable with. That's a role I'd rather continue doing. If coach calls on me to do something else, I'm always willing to take a challenge."

On a team that ranks seventh in the Big Ten in blocked shots ( 5.0 per game) and field-goal defense (39.8 percent), the return of its top shot blocker (18 in eight games) and one of its better defenders will certainly help going forward.

"He's important. He's been our rim protector for us," Turgeon said. "He's the back of our defense, the communicator and the one that protects the rim. He's capable of doing it."

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