Maryland’s Aaron Wiggins stood on the wing, sizing up Landon Taliaferro as Fairfield ran its offense. The Stags were met with resistance on the opposite side of the court, and Taliaferro signaled for a pass.
But Wiggins read the play immediately and went for the steal, stretching out his left arm and getting a hand on the ball. He secured it before it went out of bounds and took off for the basket, putting Calvin Whipple on a poster with an and-one dunk in transition.
No. 6 Maryland men’s basketball (4-0) turned defense into offense to make the difference against the Stags in the 74-55 victory Tuesday night.
“We had to create energy with our defense there in the first half,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “The energy from the press was great. I had five veterans in there, I ran a press that we ran last year that we really haven’t practiced, but they had practiced it last year — just to give it another look out there.”
About six minutes after Wiggins’ highlight-reel play, Darryl Morsell joined in, tipping Fairfield’s pass towards the other end of the court. He raced after the loose ball and picked it up at half-court, getting out on the fast break and delivering a two-handed jam.
Later in the half, Jesus Cruz — Fairfield’s leading scorer — drove on Wiggins and tried to get a hook shot over the lanky wing. But 6’10 big Jalen Smith came in and blocked the shot, and he cleaned up on the offensive glass with a putback dunk after an Anthony Cowan Jr. miss.
A lot of the early defensive success was thanks to Mark Turgeon throwing different looks at Fairfield (1-4). He deployed a full-court trap and a full-court press while switching between man and zone, throwing the Stags’ offense off-balance often.
Maryland forced Fairfield to turn the ball over 10 times in the first half and six times in the second half, leading to 16 points off of turnovers.
“We threw a lot at [Fairfield],” Turgeon said. “We did a lot of different defenses, and we’re getting better. We’re getting a little bit better at all of them.”
The Terps’ first half was highlighted by athletic finishes at the rack, but their three-point shooting propelled them to a 14-point lead at the break. The team went 5-of-9 from beyond the arc in the first, with Cowan and Eric Ayala combining for four triples on five attempts.
“I think we’re just getting in a rhythm now,” Ayala said. “At practice, we’ve been shooting a lot of threes. Coach has been implementing a lot of three-point shooting drills and stuff like that.”
While Maryland saw its best performance from deep on the season, shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc, three-point shooting is exactly what kept Fairfield within striking distance. The Stags hit seven of their 11 first-half shots from beyond the arc, led by a 3-of-5 performance from Taliaferro.
In its first three games of the season, Maryland has had to overcome slow starts. It had done that without an issue, outscoring opponents by an average of 14.6 points per game after the break.
But any shooting success the Terps enjoyed in the first half waned in the second, as they hit just 40 percent of their field goals and went 3-of-12 from beyond the arc. Fortunately for Maryland, Smith was a rock, scoring nine second half points while going 3-of-4 from the field.
Smith led Maryland with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting, though his contributions were felt all over. He also had a team-high eight boards — down a touch from his 9.7 rebounds per game average entering Tuesday — while adding two blocks and a steal on the defensive end.
Donta Scott picked up his first career start, but Lindo started the second half for the Terps alongside the usual starters. That swap from Mark Turgeon paid off immensely, as Lindo had seven second-half points on 3-of-3 shooting from the floor.
After Fairfield cut the Terps’ lead to 10 points with 8:55 to go, Maryland finally pulled away. Led by five points from Eric Ayala, the Terps went on a 9-2 run over the next four minutes to put the Stags away for good.
Three things to know
1. The Terps controlled the turnover margin. Maryland’s offense has struggled with turning the ball over early in the season, but on Tuesday, the Terps flipped the script. They picked up five first-half steals and forced 10 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, while they only had four giveaways of their own. Maryland only continued its strong ball control after the break, as it committed just four second-half turnovers.
2. Maryland had a balanced attack on offense. Entering Tuesday’s game, the Terps had five scorers averaging double-digit points, showing how deep the team’s bank of offensive weapons is. That trend continued against the Stags, as four Maryland players — including an out-of-nowhere 13-point performance from reserve Lindo — finished with at least 12 points, and Fairfield’s defense couldn’t key in on any one Terp.
“Last year, we probably had maybe two, three dominant scorers consistently,” Smith said. “But now we got a whole spread of offense, and now it’s just more weapons that the team has to guard. [They] can’t just focus on certain individuals.”
3. The Terps made the most of their extra opportunities. Given its size advantage over Fairfield, it wasn’t a surprise that Maryland had a healthy lead on the boards in the early going. But the extent that the Terps dominated — particularly on the offensive glass — was eye-opening. Maryland finished with 16 offensive rebounds with 18 second-chance points, while Fairfield had just six and two, respectively.
“In practice, one of our offensive emphases was to pretty much be a relentless offensive rebounding team,” Smith said. “And Turgeon [has] been punishing us for not going to the offensive glass, and so it just became a habit.”