For most of a 2012-13 season still in its infancy, the Maryland basketball team relied on a simple man-to-man defense with little pomp. Hedge high pick-and-rolls then recover in the post. Switch dribble handoffs around the perimeter. Pressure hard then rotate if necessary.
On the rare occasion, Coach Mark Turgeon ordered a full-court press off a dead ball, typically with either Charles Mitchell or James Padgett guarding the inbounder, or a 1-3-1 zone with Alex Len guarding the middle and Pe’Shon Howard the lone defender along the baseline.
But against a Delaware State squad trying to stall, much like South Carolina State did with much effectiveness earlier this month, Turgeon forced the issue. Maryland trapped and pressured, forcing 19 turnovers, second-most of any game this season.
“It was so boring,” Turgeon said. “God darn. [Delaware State Coach Greg Jackson has] got to play that way. I just didn’t want to the tempo to slow down too much. We don’t practice a lot pressing, we don’t practice a lot pressing after makes, but we did a pretty good job with it. By us not pressing, I don’t think they were ready for it at the start. Got a couple easy baskets.”
The Terrapins even turned to that 1-3-1 half-court zone trap for “four or five possessions,” according to Turgeon, though long caroms off deep Hornets jumpers turned bad shots into offensive rebounds and second looks.
Greater opponents, the type peeking around the corner past IUPUI, won’t cough up turnovers like Delaware State did, errantly dribbling into traffic or, at one point, slinging passes to a referee. But that Turgeon dug into his arsenal and effectively employed a pressure system Maryland hasn’t practiced much this season gives the Terps an added defensive weapon moving forward.
“That’s really the reason we ran the press, just to speed them up,” said freshman Seth Allen, who had three steals. “It worked. They were trying to stall the whole time. The press made them take bad shots. But we have to learn that, when we press them, we can’t play defense for 35 seconds and rush our offense. We still have to stay poised.”
Over one-third of Maryland’s points came off turnovers (29 out of 79), most in any game this season as it set a season-high with nine steals. Even against Morehead State, when the Terps forced a season-high 20 turnovers, they mustered just 17 points.
But Maryland still ranks last in the ACC in turnover margin, and it’s not even close. No other conference team has worse than a minus-one turnover margin. Maryland’s is minus-4.08. The Terps are second-worst in the ACC with 14.9 turnovers per game and last with 10.8 turnovers forced per game.
Ever since racking up a season-high 23 turnovers against Monmouth, however, Maryland had 11 versus Stony Brook and a season-low 10 against Delaware State. The youthful mistakes previously seen in these young Terps have since dissipated, replaced by a palpable increase in communication and aggression on defense.
Whether Turgeon returns to this pressure defense will likely be dictated by matchups and opponents. That the Terps showed promise in a game situation, however, is more than encouraging.
“We didn’t like the way the South Carolina State game went. They dictated the whole game,” said Dez Wells, who had a team-high four steals, most of any Maryland player this season. “We decided to press, speed it up, so we could have a little fun too. It’s no fun walking the ball up the court. We wanted to dictate this game, and we did a good job of it.”