Late Monday night, Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim was asked several times about Maryland’s affinity for turnovers, and whether the vaunted Orange zone was responsible. His team leads the ACC in defensive turnover percentage and steal rate. Its roster-wide length makes navigating the zone like walking through a bramble patch. Arms whip into passing lanes. Guards like Tyler Ennis devour telegraphed attempts. Found an open space? Good, now you’re surrounded.
Monday night’s game featured plenty of the familiar for Syracuse, but the Terrapins’ self-imposed errors stuck out even more. “Sure I hope we caused some,” Boeheim said. “But I thought they had more unforced turnovers.”
Rolling back the film reveals an array of mistakes, many of which had nothing to do with the Orange defense. The Terps spun their roulette wheel of turnovers and managed to land on every imaginable mistake during a 57-55 loss. They stumbled in transition. They bobbled passes out of bounds. They traveled and palmed and watched those 18 turnovers, which tied a season high set against George Washington and Morgan State, get converted into 26 points.
“We just made bad passes,” guard Dez Wells said. “You guys saw the game. We made bad passes.”
Wells wasn’t wrong. Exactly half of Maryland’s giveaways came on bad passes that were either intercepted by Syracuse or bobbled by Terps teammates or thrown straight into Orange hands. That’s what Boeheim meant by “unforced turnovers.” At times, his players seemed surprised to have easy steals thrown their way.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Turgeon said. “Their length, their zone is unique. And I didn’t think we attacked it the way we needed to attack it. We waited until we were down. The way we started to attack it later in the game was the way we should have.”
Here is the breakdown by culprit. The official box score credited forward Jake Layman with two turnovers, but the game’s first giveaway was actually a jump ball on forward Charles Mitchell. Layman was nowhere near the play.
Allen, who finished with a season-high five turnovers, had a rough night when he wasn’t making three-pointers. Three of his giveaways were unforced – two traveling violations and a carry. Twice he dragged his pivot foot, but these are easily fixable errors.
More interesting were Maryland’s struggles at the high-low entry pass, typically an efficient way to get close-range attempts against the zone. The Terps stationed Evan Smotrycz and Wells at the high post for most of the game – Mitchell was there, too, but he’s not a shooting threat so he doesn’t attract much rotation – then used the attention paid to an entry pass to slip someone else underneath the rim.
The jump ball against Mitchell began this way. So did a backdoor pass from Wells to Allen that the point guard dropped and center Shaq Cleare’s turnover, when he let a pass from Wells zip through his hands. Catch these, and you have at least have possession around the rim, which forces the defense to scramble. Instead, all three went the other way.
“No they weren’t pressuring us or anything,” Wells said. “We were just throwing the ball away.”
Several more notes:
** Maryland only had one offensive foul – a wraparound by Smotrycz that earned the forward his fourth personal within seconds of reentering – but chalk this largely up to the Syracuse defense, which doesn’t demand nearly as many screens as a man-to-man scheme, which meant the Terps had fewer opportunities to get called for moving screens, a thorny problem this season.
** Twice Maryland players picked up their dribbles in traffic without much plan, so the Orange swarmed around them and it was pretty much open season on poking at the basketball.
** Can’t telegraph passes like this against Ennis:
Nor should you throw chest passes through the zone.