Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon assured the media before his team flew out to Lincoln that the game awaiting them against Nebraska would not be an easy one.
“It’s hard out there and then you’ve got a really small number in front of your name, it’s even harder,” he said. “We get everybody’s best shot.”
Wednesday night was no different. It very much followed the same script that we have seen all season from No. 4 Maryland -- an unranked opponent, a loud arena environment, some moments of uncertainty, but ultimately a victory, 70-65 over the Cornhuskers in Lincoln.
Sophomore point guard Melo Trimble, one day removed from his 21st birthday, led the way with 20 points on just seven shots from the field. Jared Nickens appeared to snap out of his shooting slump with 11 points.
And freshman Diamond Stone nearly notched a triple-double, coming up just shy of it with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and eight blocks.
Here are 5 things you need to know.
1) Maryland knew its advantage was inside
It was no secret and, to Maryland’s credit, it went to it out of the gate against the Cornhuskers. The first two possessions were post touches. A Rasheed Sulaimon drive created a Diamond Stone dunk. Robert Carter, Jr. was fouled and hit two free throws.
That is what head coach Mark Turgeon wants. When you make the defense react to the post entry by either allowing the isolation or doubling -- which opens up shooters -- the game opens up.
2) Maryland defense does just fine
By the four-minute mark of the first half, the Cornhuskers were 10-of-32 from the floor and 2-of-11 from three-point range. That sort of shutdown defense should allow your offense to get out on a run and help to put a team away, especially when you’re leading on the glass by 12 at the break
Rasheed Sulaimon picked up two early fouls, but Maryland adjusted by putting Jake Layman on Shavon Shields to neutralize him. It worked. So why was this game tied, 27-27, late in the first half?
3) Letting them hang around
Thirteen first-half Maryland turnovers were the result of a lot of interior traffic and trying to fit the ball into tight spaces when it was clear there was not room. Damonte Dodd had two trying to pass out of the high post. Melo Trimble had three by the break, mostly because of just good old-fashioned defensive agitation by Nebraska.
It didn’t help that Sulaimon had those two fouls, which took away Maryland’s other reliable ball handler.
It’s not that Nebraska turned those turnovers into points. If they had, Maryland would have been buried in the first half. Instead, those 13 cough-ups resulted in just two Cornhusker points. Though they didn’t capitalize points-wise, a turnover is a stop and stops keep you in the game.
4) Swinging too much in the other direction?
Turgeon has wanted to emphasize getting the ball inside. That is where the advantage was on Wednesday night. But at some point, it almost seemed like Maryland was forcing it, which created those turnovers.
At the same time, they had taken just 10 threes (and made five) by the under-12 timeout of the second half. As a team on the year, they averaged taking 21 three attempts per game.
Out of a timeout and down three shy of the under-8 timeout, it seems like the game plan shifting a bit. Turgeon drew up a look for Sulaimon off a screen. He missed the shot, but Maryland retained possession and an inside-out look to Trimble gave him an open look and he nailed it for three to tie the game.
It helps that Trimble is cold-blooded. After the first three, Nebraska answered with one of his own, to which Trimble answered with another of his own to tie the game, 57-57.
Note: The Terrapins finished the game with 16 attempts from three.
5) Senior Layman strikes again
Jake Layman of years past would fade into the background if he was not engaged offensively. Senior Layman is able to strike at any time and he did to help Maryland seal it down the stretch against Nebraska.
He had only two points by late in the second half. But, he was crucial defensively by doing the heaviest lifting to hold Shavon Shields to 4-of-16 shooting from the floor. He had seven rebounds. And with 2:09 to play, Maryland went to him in the post. He made a power move to the rim and finished to give Maryland three much-needed points of breathing room. He missed the ensuing free throw, but it turned into a Stone offensive rebound and a dunk. Five.
Then Maryland went into closer mode like they have done before. They hit their free throws down the stretch and guarded Nebraska’s final game-swinging possession expertly to force a miss and get the win.
The Terrapins are now 19-2 over the past two seasons in games decided by six points or fewer.