Mark Turgeon pivoted around the semicircle of reporters, sticking his index finger at each notebook and camera to enhance the argument. “I could go through and point at every guy,” the Maryland men’s basketball coach said Tuesday. “There isn’t one guy who’s playing at a high level defensively for us.”
Sunday’s 90-83 home loss to Oregon State revealed Turgeon’s greatest fears: These Terrapins, through three games in a season still in its infancy, haven’t yet discovered the ability to defend and rebound, two attributes Turgeon always emphasizes among his teams. Worst of all were the flat-footed methods Maryland employed to little effectiveness, as the Beavers made 24 layups and received 60 combined points from Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier. It seemed, at times, like Oregon State was scoring against cardboard cutouts.
“I’m shocked,’ Turgeon said. “I was absolutely just blown away. What was really hard for me was that we never adjusted. We just did the same thing for 40 minutes. That was the hard part for me. I watched the tape three times, tried to see if the refs had any impact on the game whatsoever. They really didn’t. It was all us.”
Several weeks ago, Maryland hosted Villanova for a preseason scrimmage at Comcast Center. The building was empty, reporters and fans barred from attending because of NCAA rules, but Turgeon consistently references that outing as the height of his team’s defensive intensity. Since then? “For some reason, we’ve taken a step back,” Turgeon said.
With three games in the U.S. Virgin Islands, beginning Friday against Marist, the Terps can either fix their defensive problems or allow them to fester. The problems against Oregon State primarily rested on bringing weak-side help or failing to recover on high ball screens, which left Collier open for easy layups.
So Maryland stayed up late Monday night watching film, when Turgeon showed his players the Villanova game for comparison. Fifteen turnovers turned into 29 points for the Beavers, almost one field goal per giveaway. Sometimes, the Terps never bothered getting back in transition. They insisted that President Obama’s presence meant nothing, that they never noticed the commander-in-chief in the stands. The same could be said about how they defended Collier and Nelson (31 points) too.
“I don’t think it’s our lack of effort, I think it’s the team defense, just helping each other out, not having each other’s backs on the right times on the floor,” forward Charles Mitchell said. “The Villanova scrimmage, there was no one in the gym, but the intensity from that film showed a big different on how well we want it on the defensive end.”
Part of the problem could be Maryland’s lack of a rim protector. Freshman Damonte Dodd, Turgeon said, could become that bouncer, but he continues to struggle to adjust to the NCAA’s new hand-check rules. Recruit Trayvon Reed, who stands at 7 feet 2 with a 7-4 wingspan, is still many months away from arriving in College Park.
With Alex Len manning the paint last season, the team ranked 12th nationally in effective field goal percentage defense and blocked an average of 11.2 percent of opponents’ shots. Neither Mitchell nor Shaquille Cleare are particularly vertical defenders, relying more on their lateral quickness to handle opposing post players, but Turgeon shrugged off that as a glaring problem.
“I started a 6-7 center at Texas A&M and made the NCAA tournament,” he said. “I think rim protection is a little bit overrated. Not everybody has it. We were lucky enough to have it with Alex. We’ve just got to guard better.
“Damonte eventually will be that guy, Trayvon Reed will be that guy. But right now he’s not completely ready and Trayvon’s not here. We just got to guard better. It’s that simple. We just can’t let guys get into the paint like it’s a walk in the park. It’s got to be hard to get into the paint against us. We gave up 24 layups, 48 points in the paint, and that’s not counting the times they got in the paint and we fouled them. I’ve never seen a stat like that on one of my teams.”