Welcome back to the Testudo Times film room. Maryland men’s basketball defeated Illinois, 66-63, in a thriller in Champaign. This was the Terps second win in the Big Ten this season, with both coming on the road over a ranked opponent.
The defensive intensity, particularly in the second half, allowed Maryland to head back to College Park with a win. Without point guard Eric Ayala, other Terps had to step up, which they certainly did.
Senior leader Darryl Morsell led the way with a career-high 19 points, including a crucial basket down the stretch, while Donta Scott and Aaron Wiggins contributed 16 and 12, respectively.
Let's get to the film to break down the Terps swarming defense and how their offense fared without Ayala on the floor.
Maryland’s active defense came up big, especially in the second half
All year, Maryland has done a poor job containing the elite big men in the Big Ten. Most recently, Iowa’s Luka Garza had a field day against the Terps. Illinois starts Kofi Cockburn at center, who is one of the most dominant forces in the paint in the country.
While Cockburn had 21 points, 16 of those came in the first half. Maryland struggled to defend him in that half, but did a much better job in the second of bringing over double teams and forcing the ball out of Cockburn’s hands.
Here is an example of a double team that comes and forces Cockburn to pass. Maryland prevents a deep post touch and Cockburn does not get the ball until late in the shot clock with Chol Marial guarding him.
Morsell immediately comes over for a hard double. This forces Cockburn to pass it out to the top of the key. With the shot clock running down, Illinois has to take a bad shot that misses.
Anytime Cockburn was in single coverage, he had an easy time scoring against both Galin Smith and Marial. It was much more difficult, however, when he had multiple defenders pestering him.
This is a great job by the Terps bringing over help to stop Cockburn. He tries to drive baseline with Smith guarding him, but Scott comes from the top side and Wiggins rotates over as well to make it much more difficult for Cockburn to get a shot off. He ends up getting called for a traveling violation.
The Terps put on a defensive clinic in the second half, holding the Fighting Illini to only six points in the final eight minutes of action. The effort on the defensive end — contesting shots at the rim, closing out on shooters and rotating with urgency — allowed the Terps to stifle Illinois’ offense.
The clip above is an example of that, where Maryland swarms the ball and has a great contest on a shot at the rim.
The Terps bring the double on Cockburn, who then takes a back dribble to create space. When Maryland doubles, the other three defenders need to scramble to cover the rest of the team. The Terps not involved in the double do a good job of executing rotations and two players end up contesting a shot at the rim that misses.
This was the most important defensive possession in the game for the Terps and they came away with a huge stop. Hart does a terrific job staying in front of Illinois’ guard and uses his length to contest the shot.
How Maryland’s offense performed without Ayala
Ayala is the primary ball handler for head coach Mark Turgeon’s squad and he typically plays heavy minutes fulfilling the duties of the point guard. In his absence, Turgeon tasked many contributors to serve as the ball handler and initiator of the offense. Hakim Hart served the role for extended periods, while Morsell, Wiggins and Aquan Smart also helped out.
One thing that stood out in the absence of Ayala is that Maryland appeared to get into offensive sets much faster in the half court. Throughout the season, Maryland’s offense has consisted of a lot of dribbling on the perimeter and ball watching.
With no comfortable ball handler in the lineup against Illinois, as soon as the player bringing up the ball crossed half court, he often got rid of it, initiating an offensive set or some type of movement.
Here, Hart is bringing the ball up the floor and as soon as he crosses half court, he swings it to the left wing and goes to set an off-ball screen for Wiggins in the corner. Wiggins ends up coming off the screen and catching the ball at the free-throw line, where he receives a pass and knocks down the jumper.
On this possession, Morsell brings the ball up the floor and immediately initiates with another pass to the left wing. While that is going on, Wiggins sets a cross-screen on the block for Scott to get a post up. He receives the pass on the left block and ends up getting a right-handed hook shot to go.
This was another good set Maryland ran that set up a dribble handoff-screen for Scott to get a three ball. Scott’s defender goes underneath the screen, which gives Scott time to take a dribble, step into his shot and knock it down.
Wiggins is operating at the elbow, and at the same time, Morsell sets a back screen for Hart to creep in. Wiggins delivers a beautiful no look pass to Hart for the easy lay in.
While Maryland’s offense was far from perfect against the Fighting Illini, they certainly showed improved ball movement and cutting from what the Terps had displayed in their previous outings.
Masked Morsell stepped up in Ayala’s absence
Everyone needed to carry a larger load with Ayala out and no one stepped up more than senior leader Darryl Morsell. Morsell was the catalyst for the offense in the second half, picking his spots and knocking down jumpers.
This is Morsell taking advantage of a one-on-one matchup. Morsell picks his spot and elevates over his defender for a short jumper. These were the kinds of shots Morsell was hitting in the second half.
Not only did Morsell notch a career high, but he made an incredibly tough basket that allowed Maryland to seal the deal with 30 seconds to go. Morsell catches on the right wing and rips to attack down hill. Morsell takes off at the rim, absorbs the contact and gets the difficult finish to go.