It was a 20-minute disaster, plain and simple. The Maryland men’s basketball team was frigid from the field on Wednesday night, content to bombard Notre Dame’s zone defense with three-pointers that created a rather thudding soundtrack at Comcast Center, because everything was hitting the rim and bouncing away.
“I think we were just wide open that we didn’t want to pass them up, so we started shooting them,” point guard Seth Allen said. “We shot a lot of threes in the first half.”
The Terrapins made both of their three-point attempts against the Fighting Irish’s man-to-man defense, as they blitzed to a 10-4 lead in five offensive possessions. Notre Dame rolled with a four-guard lineup and paid dearly; Evan Smotrycz posted up for an easy layup, and both Allen and Jake Layman hit shots from beyond the arc. (When the Irish turned from their zone back to man in the second half, the result was quite similar.)
Then Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey called a zone. It wasn’t anything particularly swarming, or even complicated. Just a 2-3 scheme that Maryland was unable to break. The Terps embarked on an epic cold snap, missing 13 straight three-pointers as they fell behind by nine points at halftime.
“We couldn’t make a shot,” Coach Mark Turgeon said.
In 22 half-court possessions against Notre Dame’s zone, Maryland scored 11 points. It launched 13 three-pointers and made one. Five times, the Terps couldn’t even get a shot off, either coughing up a pass or committing a moving screen.
In the second half, as the comeback began, Maryland finally discovered the glaring hole among the Fighting Irish; they were leaving the middle wide open. So Dez Wells parked himself there and the offense ran through him. It resulted in 15 points over 10 possessions and markedly better shooting (5 for 12 from the field, 3 for 5 on three-pointers).
“Second half we really loosened up as a team and got things going,” guard Nick Faust said.
And now, the GIFs, specifically looking at how Maryland’s offense improved against the zone.
Turgeon’s zone offense is mostly static. Few Terps are cutting at any given moment, except for the occasional high-low exchange between the two interior players or a perimeter switch. Most of the success comes either when the opposing defense gets lazy by forgetting to cover the backdoor, or when Maryland occupies enough eyes to spring someone free.
This possession, early in the game, ultimately resulted in a missed three-pointer, but it demonstrates how Turgeon wants things to run. Jake Layman, in the corner, pops up for a pass then immediately gives it back to Seth Allen. As Evan Smotrycz cuts up to draw attention, Shaq Cleare sets a back screen on Layman. Two quick swing passes gets Layman the basketball, ideally with space.
Another basic zone action from the Terps. Roddy Peters swings the basketball to Nick Faust and Charles Mitchell immediately sets an inside screen. As Faust rolls off, this draws the attention of the other high defender, so a bounce pass sets Peters up for the drive.
This possession ended in a blocked shot because Eric Atkins sticks with Peters while Pat Connaughton, the strongside defender, did a nice job preventing the kick-out three to Wells in the corner. Maryland ran this exact same play perfectly in the second half, however, when a ball screen forced the weak-side guard to cheat, leaving Allen open for a three that put the Terps up 55-45.
Might as well take these two together, because they’re the exact same play, and really the only offensive action Maryland had working for it against the zone before it discovered the free throw line was unsettled territory.
As the basketball swings to one side, the opposite post (either Mitchell or Cleare) flashes from the block to the elbow to draw attention, while the nearside post (Smotrycz, in both instances), sets a cross screen to free the dunker. Neither of Smotrycz’s screens were particularly crushing, but the key was that Fighting Irish Zach Auguste was distracted just enough to leave his perch near the rim.
A perfectly reasonable possession finding Smotrycz in the middle, but he immediately gets swarmed and loses his dribble. If he had either shot or kicked out to Faust on the right side, things would’ve gone much better. This sets up the following shot, where he makes the correct move.
Here is the only true high-low sequence the Terps had against Notre Dame, but they cut the lead to one point when Smotrycz, instead of dribbling into the defense’s teeth and creating a spacing issue, immediately finds Mitchell on a bounce pass. Because center Garrick Sherman came up to guard Smotrycz, Auguste was left to both guard Mitchell and keep watch for a Layman three-pointer. Instead, he got caught in the middle. By that time, Mitchell had him sealed.
Perhaps Maryland’s best-executed possession against the zone all evening. The Terps run their standard ball screen with Wells acting as the post, so when Faust runs through and clears out, the junior guard finds some open space for the pass from Layman. Three defenders close on Wells, so Layman makes the correct backdoor cut, takes the handoff and dives towards the rim. Because Wells occupied Sherman by backing into him, it opened up just enough space for Layman to sneak past.