The Maryland basketball players could sense the frustration bubbling over from their coach. Mark Turgeon has always instructed top-notch defensive teams, but this latest installment has lagged behind in that department, no more so than in a 90-83 loss against Oregon State on Sunday night. Afterward, in the locker room, Turgeon couched his disappointment in perspective. He said it was a long season, according to Jake Layman.
It will be, if the Terrapins continue playing defense like this. Devon Collier and Roberto Nelson gashed them for 60 points on 20 of 34 shooting. Oregon State made 60 percent of its field goals. Nearly everything came inside, against a front court hampered by foul trouble.
“That’s all we talked about in the scouting report was those two kids and trying to guard those two kids,” Turgeon said. “Obviously we didn’t do a very good job. Nelson kept getting to the rim and Collier, we had no answer for him.”
When Maryland needed stops down the stretch, battling back from a 12-point deficit to come within a three-pointer of tying the game, it had no answer for Collier and Nelson. Forward Charles Mitchell tried fronting Collier, but the help-side defense came too late and post-entry passes went right over the 6-feet-8 sophomore’s head. Junior Nick Faust opened the game on Nelson, but no one could stop him from penetrating the paint.
“We really didn’t defend well at all,” said forward Evan Smotrycz, who also struggled moving laterally against the dribble-drive. “We just didn’t do our job. We didn’t show long enough on ball screens, get help side, box out, everything. We didn’t do it well.”
Dating back to Turgeon’s days at Wichita State, his teams have consistently ranked among the nation’s best in adjusted defense, a metric devised by analyst Ken Pomeroy. According to his Web site Kenpom.com, five of Turgeon’s teams since 2008 have ranked in the top 40 nationally in the category.
It’s far too early to extrapolate based on three games, but Oregon State exposed Maryland’s weaknesses before a raucous crowd that included President Barack Obama. Center Shaquille Cleare remains a solid back-down defender, but both he and Mitchell both struggle to contain more agile post threats like Collier. When the Terps tried to go small, putting Smotrycz at the five and Jake Layman at the four in an effort to reinvigorate the full-court press and force some turnovers, the Beavers simply feasted on Collier. And with Alex Len in the NBA, Maryland has little shot-blocking presence to clean up mistakes.
“Just got to be more of a commitment to it,” Turgeon said. “We talk about toughness, obviously that’s a ways we have to go still. Defensively we’ve got to get a lot tougher. I‘ve got to watch it. I know we’ve missed box outs because we miss them every day. Until we’re committed to being a good defensive team, we’re going to have results like this.”
After losing to Kentucky in the opener last November, Maryland coasted through non-conference cupcakes and rang up the program’s longest winning streak since 2002. This season, the slate is much more challenging, even more so if the Terps continue to struggle defensively. Teams like Oregon State, Tulsa and Boston University – teams whose RPI should fall somewhere between 100 and 200 – were scheduled to buttress Maryland’s NCAA tournament resume, not damage it.
With the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands up ahead later this week, the Terps have several days to review and scheme for the three-game, four-day tournament. Defense and rebounding – Maryland outrebounded Oregon State by seven but grabbed just 61.5 percent of available defensive boards – will undoubtedly be the focus, particularly after both abandoned the team against the Beavers.
“We were falling over each other quite a bit tonight,” Turgeon said. “I’ve got to build depth. Our big guys just have to play better defensively.”