Maryland getting defensive for NCAA tournament

Bryn Forbes (5) of the Michigan State Spartans handles the ball against Maryland's Damonte Dodd (35) and Melo Trimble (2) in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 12, 2016 in Indianapolis.

COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland men's basketball team left the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis last Friday night after a 97-86 win over Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals feeling pretty good about the way it played — offensively.

While coach Mark Turgeon attributed the season's second-highest point total by an opponent to clearing his bench too early after building a 25-point lead, the true test for Maryland's defense would come when the third-seeded Terps played second-seeded, No. 2-ranked Michigan State on Saturday in the semifinals.


The answer came in a 64-61 defeat to the Spartans. Maryland held Michigan State to 42 percent shooting, including 28.6 percent (6-for-21) in the second half. It was the lowest scoring total for the Spartans since a 76-59 loss to Iowa on Jan. 14.

"I definitely think we played to our potential tonight defensively and going forward it has to be like that every night to give ourselves a chance to win," senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon said after the game. "If we defend, if we keep ourselves within striking distance, we can have an offensive burst at any point to win the game."


Going into this year's NCAA tournament opener for Maryland (25-8) on Friday against South Dakota State (26-7) in Spokane, Wash., Turgeon is hoping to see the team that dug in and didn't back down against Michigan State do the same against a much less celebrated opponent.

"The Michigan State game gave us great confidence. We shot [33.3] percent and lost by three," Turgeon said Tuesday. "What we've really done the last two weeks is we've worked on us — how we're going to guard, how we have to guard, the pace we want to play at. That's got to be our mindset. Whether we're playing South Dakota State or Michigan state, we've got to play the same way."

Asked what stood out about the team's practices since returning from Indianapolis, sophomore point guard Melo Trimble said Tuesday, "Just how dialed in we were. After we lost to Michigan State, we could have hung our heads and not had any confidence [for the NCAA tournament]. The way we practiced today, you would have thought we won the tournament. I think this team has a lot of confidence, especially in our defense."

Senior forward Jake Layman, who chased Michigan State guard Bryn Forbes around for most of Saturday's game and held the second-team All-Big Ten player to just four points and 0-for-4 from 3-point range, said finding a balance between offense and defense is vital to Maryland's postseason survival.

"I think we're playing so confidently on the offensive end, and we're playing so hard on the defensive end, if we focus on each of those we'll be hard to beat," Layman said. "I think our momentum going forward is from that second half against Michigan State. We'll take that into this tournament."

Junior forward Robert Carter Jr., who did a pretty good job defensively on a combination of Michigan State's frontcourt players while scoring a team-high 18 points Saturday, said the Terps can still improve and "play more as a team defensively and helping each other out, just learning more."

Though Maryland knows that it will likely be tested even more in a potential second-round matchup Sunday against the winner of Friday's game between No. 4 seed California and No.13 seed Hawai'i, the Terps are not looking past their first-round opponent.

Having watched South Dakota State play in person when both teams were in separate divisions of the Cancun Challenge before Thanksgiving, Turgeon has an idea of what to expect Friday.


"They're old school — man-to-man [defensive] team, run the motion offense. They've got all five guys that can score the ball, very disciplined, play with a toughness. They're really good and they're really well-coached," Turgeon said. "They have our guys' attention."

Carter said that what Turgeon has said all season about the Terps being a work in progress after adding three new starters — Carter, Sulaimon and eventually freshman center Diamond Stone — is finally starting to take hold.

"Everybody just looked at the talent we had and thought we'd just go automatically and walk on the court and be a phenomenal team," Carter said. "We had confidence in order to stay in the top 25 all year. I feel we're there mentally, we're there as a team and I think we're going to make a run."

Said Layman, "It's not just the seniors. I say it all the time. The guys on this team might not play with this much talent as we have ever again. We've got to go out there and take advantage of that and play as hard as we can every night."