Shaquille Cleare pondered his thoughts for a split second, wondering how to best describe South Carolina State’s methodical, lethargic offense. All afternoon at Comcast Center during the Maryland basketball team’s 61-46 win, the Bulldogs slowed down the pace, lazily jogging around the perimeter, executing dribble-handoffs with little aim other than to stall until the last possible moment before attacking.
Finally, Cleare shook his head and settled on the most simplistic answer possible.
“Oh man,” Cleare said. “That was so boring.”
Perhaps, but South Carolina State’s slow-down modus operandi aimed to limit a potent Terrapins transition game, coupling it with a packed-in zone that doubled the post and dared Maryland to shoot from the outside. The Terps still won by 15 against a style it can expect to see more down the road.
“In the beginning it was frustrating, but [Coach Mark Turgeon] told us to be mentally tough,” freshman Seth Allen said. “A lot of teams will try to do that to us. We have to mature and learn how to guard at the end of the shot clock.
“It was their first big game, playing against us, so they wanted to keep it close I guess. They stalled the clock. We didn’t see it, they’ve never done it before.”
Defensive discipline has continued to be a point of emphasis for these young Terps, who at times allowed the Bulldogs to simply lull them to sleep along the three-point line. Maryland can coast comfortably in non-conference games like these, simply by virtue of depth and talent, but they provide ample opportunities to work on facing such stall tactics.
“I thought we shot quickly in the first half,” Turgeon said. “But we missed shots that we normally make. Nick [Faust] never really got going, Pe’Shon [Howard] made a couple which was nice to see, Logan [Aronhalt] made a couple. But you’re not making jumpers, you can keep sagging in.
“We missed layups too and some things. Just shots we’ve been making that we’re going to make. Not really concerned about it. I think them using the clock the delaying, we tried to speed them up and we couldn’t do it. I think that affected our offense. We were trying to get eight-point plays instead of getting the best shot we can every time. We’ll learn from it. We’ll run it into it again, so we’ll be better the next time a team comes in and tried to do that against us.”
The Terps held South Carolina State (4-5) to zero second-chance points and just six points in the paint, out-rebounding another opponent 39-30 and holding the Bulldogs to 32.1 percent shooting.
But in just dancing around the perimeter, South Carolina State drastically slowed down the pace to a near-halt. Its big men remained in the short-corner, only diving towards the hoop if the guards penetrated and drew Maryland’s post players up on help-side defense.
“You help off a little, set ball screens, sometimes you catch them sleeping, because we’re so concerned about what the balls are doing and the bigs would go up and set a screen,” Cleare said. “When we got in the lane, it wanted us to fake a little and take a charge, because they were leaving off one foot. We made a few mistakes early in the game.”
“I can see that some of my teammates, it was a little frustrating,” said Dez Wells, who faced a similar style against Notre Dame in last year’s NCAA tournament with Xavier. “But you have to play through it. Not everybody’s going to get up and down the court. We played Northwestern with the Princeton offense, so we’re used to playing against a team that slows the ball down.
“We did well, we didn’t score as many points as we wanted to, but we still defended well and shot free throws well and rebounded well. Our turnovers weren’t as much as they usually are, so we’re doing better and making strides towards becoming the team we want to be.”
Indeed, Maryland posted a season-low 61 points but shot 18 of 22 from the free-throw line and had 12 turnovers, its second-best totals in both categories this season. For the sixth straight game, an opponent shot below 40 percent from the field as well.
But the Terps shot 37.3 percent from the field, worst since the season-opener at Kentucky. Alex Len finished with a team-high 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting, but the Terps were 5 of 22 from three-point range.
“It was just guys not really hitting shots,” said Allen, who finished with three points and five assists. “The zone was funky. It was weird. We hadn’t played against a zone like that. It wasn’t a good zone, but we were so wide open it threw off our rhythm and we just weren’t hitting shots.
Nick Faust made just 3 of 11 shots (0 for 4 from three-point) and finished with six points, while Jake Layman missed all six shots he took and Logan Aronhalt was just 2 of 6 from the field.
“We didn’t make shots that we have been making,” Turgeon said. “They could stay zone and in their delay game because we could never get separation since we couldn’t make a shot throughout the game. It’s a ‘W’ and we will move on and take the day off tomorrow, and hope to get better in practice on Monday.”