Maryland's close call in overtime against Northwestern on Tuesday was bizarre and out of character for a team known for protecting its home court.
Considering the Terrapins won in Evanston a few weeks prior by 13 points, most wrote this game off as an easy home win for the No. 7 team in the country, but the Terps struggled from the get-go.
To diagnose what went on with the Terps in the first half against the Wildcats, I've split the period into three defining segments: Pick-and-roll struggles, small ball and the 10-0 run.
1. Pick-and-roll defense
Damonte Dodd is meant to play the lead roll in what is usually Mark Turgeon's top-20-or-so defense in the country, but he really had problems guarding the pick and roll in the early minutes, helping the Wildcats get off to as large as a 7-point lead early on.
Dererk Pardon was the benefactor, scoring 8 points in the opening half. He was able to catch the ball in the post, where he wanted it, on the roll. This was due to exaggerated hedges from Dodd that took the wind out of Maryland's sails on the defensive end.
It wasn't just Dodd who had issues, though. It was most of the Terrapins' big men who had trouble knowing where to be off the screens. There was confusion over switching defenders and overall some poor communication which sometimes had two Terps on one man.
See here for evidence:
2. Small ball
Varun Ram is without a doubt one of Maryland's best perimeter defenders alongside Rasheed Sulaimon, but his size hurt him against Northwestern.
Ram has settled in as Turgeon's first point guard off the bench, taking the place of Jaylen Brantley because of what he can achieve guarding opposing ball-handlers. He played just 5 minutes, but Northwestern took advantage of him on the court, slacking off him defensively, instead using the man who was guarding him to double on the perimeter.
The Wildcats were essentially encouraging him to fire off threes, and Maryland may have benefitted slotting Brantley – who's shooting 6-of-14 from deep – in his regular backup minutes slot. It should be noted that Ram was the only player visually directing the defense in its correct positions, however.
Turgeon also played Carter at the 5-spot for a time with Ram on the court, and tough interior D – due to the slack off Ram – caused a turnover, and gutsy dribbles in the paint. Losing Michal Cekovsky to illness created new lineup opportunities, which didn't pan out well.
3. The 10-0 run that saved Maryland's bacon
The only saving grace for Maryland was the final three and a half minutes of the first half, in which it played its only efficient offense and rode on the back of Jake Layman's defense.
Layman ended the period in "defensive player of the year" fashion, jumping passing lanes for two steals and swatting a shot, converting the turnovers into points in the other direction.
This was a defining moment in preventing what could have been a devastating halftime deficit. Maryland picked up from its lackluster energy early on, and only the end of the half and a trick shot from Bryant McIntosh were able to stop the Terps' burst of stellar play and what could have been a larger run.
To say the first half was up-and-down would be an understatement, but the Terps prevailed and were able to escape this one with a win in a week when so many of the nation's top teams couldn't.