Terps basketball film review: Defensive problems vs. Pittsburgh

Six days between games offers plenty of opportunity to dissect the Maryland men’s basketball team’s 79-59 loss at Pittsburgh on Monday, so let’s knock it all out in one shot. During Coach Mark Turgeon’s postgame interview, the topic of defense came up plenty. Sure, the Terrapins allowed fewer points to the Panthers on the road than in home losses to Oregon State (90 points) and Boston University (83 points), but words like “concentration” and “dialed in” were accurately employed to describe exactly what Maryland was lacking in its search to derail Pittsburgh’s unbeaten streak at Petersen Events Center.

Turgeon has always coached strong defensive teams — last season’s Terps ranked 33rd nationally in adjusted defense, the fourth time since 2008 that a Turgeon team had ranked in the top 40 — and this Maryland group still clocks in the top 75. But if and when the Terps encounter sluggish offensive nights, with their starters shooting 31.4 percent and three of their best scorers (Dez Wells, Jake Layman and Nick Faust) combining for just 15 points, then the defense can’t afford to suffer accordingly.

“I thought we tried to guard in the first half,” Turgeon said. “I don’t think defensively we were dialed in defensively in the second half. I think we let the score and missed jump shots affect our defense in the second half.”

Play 1: Talib Zanna layup on Pittsburgh’s second possession


Here center Talib Zanna (42) sets a high screen for Cameron Wright then rolls to the hoop. Before the GIF began, Maryland center Shaquille Cleare hedged hard on Wright, like Turgeon teaches, then started looking back for forward Evan Smotrycz to recover onto Wright, his original man. Except Smotrycz got pinned by Zanna — not particularly aggressively, mind you — and stayed low.

So, in a four-second clip, Cleare backpedals, gets caught looking for help as Wright blows by while Smotrycz throws his hands up and eventually helps once Wright blows by Cleare into the lane. Meanwhile Dez Wells is too late to notice Zanna beneath the hoop, so this turns into an and-one layup as both he and Cleare got a piece of the Bishop McNamara graduate.

“We just weren’t talking on defense and getting through screens,” Smotrycz said. “They got a lot of open looks, a lot of easy ones. They finished a lot of tough buckets.”

Play 2: Josh Newkirk pull-up jumper in transition


Charles Mitchell and Jonathan Graham are both running towards the hoop, heads not on swivels, and both get turned around as Josh Newkirk barrels down the floor. Wells looked like he wanted to pick up Newkirk — though he probably decided too late between him and the Pittsburgh player streaking down the left alley — but Mitchell had no idea where his teammate was and inadvertently shoved him away.

In 18 minutes, Newkirk scored just eight points but tallied 1.47 points per possession, according to KenPom.com, his best mark of the season.

“I think we could have played harder and could have played smarter,” Smotrycz said. “Could have talked more. Pitt’s a good team. It’s tough to beat them here.”

Check the bench. John Auslander and Turgeon had similar reactions in succession, too.

Play 3: Lamar Patterson layup


One of the ACC’s biggest surprises this season — and a legitimate first-team all-conference candidate — Lamar Patterson torched Maryland for an efficient 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including this easy layup which came, despite being surrounded at one point by three Terps, minimal resistance. Derrick Randall clips Wells on the initial screen and Patterson goes right around Cleare. Layman barely helps and Smotrycz doesn’t.

Play 4: Zanna layup


Not an entirely awful defensive possession from the Terps, given that Allen fronts the initial drive well from James Robinson, but Robinson crosses back over and Cleare stays up high to hedge. This allows Zanna to immediately park himself in Allen’s lap, back him down and, after both Cleare and Wells feebly try to scrape, an easy layup. Kudos on Robinson for recognizing the mismatch, but it wouldn’t have happened if Allen had fought through the re-screen — which wasn’t really even a re-screen so much as Zanna meandering over in Allen’s general direction — and if Cleare hadn’t hedged so high.

Play 5: Nick Faust dunk


A quick aside: One of Maryland’s lone offensive bright spots in the second half came on this nice backdoor action, which Turgeon seems to dial up once or twice a game. Faust gets the basketball on the right wing as some decoy motion happens on the weak side. He swings the pass to Wells, who passes to Allen while Smotrycz dives to the near-side block and occupies space there. Ultimately, rim protection fell on Zanna, but he was watching Cleare flash to the middle. All told not exactly urgent cutting from Cleare and Smotrycz, but they caught the Panthers sleeping just enough for Faust to sneak by. Unlike Allen’s first pass of the second half, when his lob to Wells slammed off the backboard, this was delivered on point. 

Play 5: This is not a good screen sequence from Cleare


Not much more to add, but Cleare whiffed on consecutive screens to Faust and Wells.

Play 6: Newkirk three-pointer


This inbounds play seemed to be the tipping point for Turgeon, who called a timeout shortly after. Faust and Layman don’t communicate on the cross cut. Layman thinks he’s staying home. Faust trailed. If both players had stayed in their original spot, Newkirk’s shot might have been somewhat contested. Instead, they switch places — Faust to the block and Layman forced to scramble to the shooter — and Pittsburgh went up by 11 points. After the timeout, Layman hit a layup to put Maryland within nine, but after Patterson stuck a floater, the Terps never cracked single digits again.

“They were hitting shots, man,” Allen said. “I felt like they didn’t miss out there. I felt like every time we scored, they came back and scored. It was hard. It’s frustrating. The same thing, we’ve got to play better defense. If they’re hitting shots, we got to make them drive. We’ll fix that in practice. We’ll see them again and we’ll see how that goes.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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