Maryland shouldn’t need much film study to prepare for Friday’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal against top-seeded North Carolina.
After losing to the Tar Heels twice in the last five weeks (by nine and 24 points, respectively), the Terrapins are well versed in North Carolina’s strengths—in particular, those of ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller.
North Carolina’s 7-0 senior forward scored a game-high 22 in the Tar Heels’ 83-74 victory at Comcast Center on Feb. 4. He wreaked even more havoc in North Carolina’s 88-64 victory at the Dean Smith Center on Feb. 29, scoring a game-high 33 points, which included a 20-of-23 performance on the free-throw line.
So the chief task for No. 8 Maryland (17-14) Friday at Atlanta’s Philips Arena will be containing Zeller without the Terps’ entire frontcourt ending up on the bench with a mountain of fouls.
The key, says the Terps’ 6-10 center Berend Weijs, is defending Zeller earlier—getting a body in front of him before he makes his move to the rim.
“He’s great using his body to get a good post position,” said Weijs, who drew four fouls defending Zeller on Feb. 29, “so we’ve got to make sure he doesn’t get that position. We’ve got to push him off the block, because when he’s off the block, he’s less effective.”
Maryland junior forward James Padgett agreed.
“We have to do our work early and keep him from getting deep touches,” Padgett said. “A lot of our fouls came under the basket; he got positioned early.”
Freshman center Alex Len, who fouled out against North Carolina in the Feb. 29 game, wasn’t available for comment following Maryland’s 82-60 first-round victory over Wake Forest. ACC officials require that each team open its locker room for post-game interviews throughout the tournament, but Maryland officials are continuing with their season-long policy of not making Len available to reporters “to ease his transition to college basketball.”
The Terps’ confidence was high following Thursday’s convincing victory over the Demon Deacons.
Maryland shot 54.4 percent from the field, out-rebounded Wake Forest 39-24 and had 18 assists on 31 baskets. And after taking a 30-28 lead with 2:40 remaining in the first half, Maryland never trailed and led by as much as 29 points before Coach Mark Turgeon sent out his walk-ons.
“It gives you some momentum,” Weijs said of the victory, which snapped a three-game losing streak. “We shared the ball. We rebounded. We did everything that was necessary. We’ve got a feel right now for playing together. And if we can carry this momentum into tomorrow [against North Carolina], I think we can come out great. If we keep playing this same way, we can give ‘em hell!”
Added freshman Nick Faust, who had a season-high 19 points against Wake Forest: “Every team is beatable.”