Cracking zone defenses requires patience and unselfishness, and the Maryland men’s basketball team possessed neither on Saturday against Florida Atlantic. Instead, the Terrapins were hoisting contested jumpers early in the shot clock against Florida Atlantic, abandoning the ball movement necessary to unearth high-percentage looks. “We have to be much more unselfish on both ends of the floor for us to be a better basketball team,” Coach Mark Turgeon said afterwards.
The Terrapins finally found their stride at the right time in a narrow 66-62 win over the visiting Owls, though not without some unnecessary drama. They lost double-digit leads in both halves, and the victory didn’t seem entirely in the cards until Jake Layman’s three-pointer with 37 seconds left.
Much of the postgame narrative centered on fatigue, and how two games in three days might give Maryland trouble. Indeed, the Terps arrived at Baltimore/Washington International Airport in the wee hours of Friday morning, exhausted after beating Boston College by eight points, but the Owls were in a similar, if not more demanding, position. They lost to DePaul in Chicago by nine points that same night, and unlike Maryland didn’t have the luxury of coming back home.
Before an announced crowd of just 9,625, the Terps surged to a 7-0 lead after both Shaq Cleare and Evan Smotrycz grabbed offensive rebounds and hit layups. The lead expanded to 22-9 when freshman Roddy Peters swiped a steal from guard Pablo Bertone, Florida Atlantic’s leading scorer who had torched DePaul for 30 points without hitting a single three-pointer, and stuck a layup on the other end.
“I knew they were good,” Turgeon said. “I gained a lot of confidence in my team Thursday night. And we continued to practice hard. Now we didn’t really have time to practice here for this game because we were worried about legs. But I was very confident even though I knew FAU was a good team. I told our guys this was going to be a hard game. It’s not going to be easy. But I thought at times it could have gotten easy for us.”
Instead, the Terps made it hard. Smotrycz and Wells, who had a career-high 33 points against the Eagles, were a combined 2 for 12 at halftime and the team was shooting 28.6 percent from beyond the arc. Rather than penetrating and feeding forwards who would drive to from the the short corner to the rim, the Terps were settling for outside shots
“We can’t do that,” said Layman, who scored a game-high 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting. “We were shooting jump shots a little too much instead of driving and getting the ball inside, which is what we did in the second half.”
Clinging to a two-point lead at intermission, Maryland went up seven points on two spectacular passes from Peters when the freshman – surprise, surprise – broke down the defense and found cutters.
“It’s nice to get layups,” Turgeon said. “It’s nice to get layups instead of a guarded three. We talked about it. We talked about it every timeout too, but it just helped at halftime, you had a little more time to get your point across.”
After the second officials’ timeout of the second half, the Terps were leading 51-39. Then the Owls started chipping away. Maryland was scoring against the zone, but Bertone found his stroke and, in the case of a banked three-pointer from atop the key, a little luck, too. When he converted a Layman turnover into a layup and a free throw, Florida Atlantic was within three points.
“We just knew that we needed movement in our offense right there,” Layman said. “We knew we needed guys driving and kicking out. Sometimes we shoot too fast. Coach talked to us and said it may take 30 seconds to get the best shot we have. That’s what happened.”
Up 62-59, the Terps used all but one second on the shot clock, whipping passes around the perimeter before Nick Faust (eight points, three assists, three rebounds, one turnover) drew help defense and kicked out to Layman in the left corner. The shot was barely contested and it dropped straight through the net.
“We’re a mature team. Coach doesn’t have to get on us on what we need to do,” said center Shaquille Cleare, who scored a season-high 10 points. “We just played with poise, we played physically and mentally strong in the second half. This is a team, we really stooped down to their level tonight, but the most important thing is that we got the win.”