Just before Maryland’s game against Illinois State, head coach Mark Turgeon admitted that his team was not playing like the No. 2 team in the nation.
For the first time this season, the Terrapins undoubtedly did in a dominating 86-63 victory over Rhode Island to win the 2015 Cancun Challenge championship on Wednesday night in Mexico.
Senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon was a spark plug early and continued into the second half, leading the way alongside Melo Trimble and Robert Carter, Jr. with 17 points.
Here are five things you need to know.
1) Best start of the season
Maryland has driven with the parking brake on in the first half of nearly every game so far this season. Wednesday night was a different story. The Terrapins were in rhythm offensively and not allowing the Rams to dictate the way the game would be played.
It helped that they hit their open threes, too. Once the floor is spaced, everything gets easier. Rasheed Sulaimon hit two big threes in the first 10 minutes to kickstart the offensive attack.
On Tuesday against Illinois State, Maryland had 31 points in the first half. They had 31 points against Rhode Island by the 7:42 mark of the first.
2) Playing them straight up
Rhode Island plays smaller, but they didn’t play the type of fast-paced, pressure-heavy game that gives Maryland trouble. There were many more traditional elements to the URI attack and that is where the Terrapins excel.
Part of it is simply roster limitations for the Rams. They really only run six deep, so they couldn’t swap players in and out and absorb foul trouble like Illinois State did on Tuesday. Because of that, Maryland was able to settle in.
Those three-pointers falling for Maryland also helped. Drain a few of those and the game changes.
It was apparent on the defensive end, too. Without star guard E.C. Matthews, there just was not enough offense there for the Rams to compete. They ran six deep and were it not for a clear emphasis on not fouling in the second half, this game would have been even more one-sided.
Rhode Island backcourt core of Four McGlynn, Jared Terrell, and Jarvis Garrett were held to 5-of-27 shooting.
3) Robert Carter, Jr. shines
Word out of Maryland practice over the summer was that Robert Carter was the Terrapins’ best player. I’ve maintained that he’s a first-round pick in the 2016 draft. He looked like it on Wednesday night.
In the first half alone, he had 13 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks. He was scoring from everywhere on the floor, taking his man one-on-one in the post, running out in transition after a big defensive play, and even stepping out to hit his first three of the season.
He finished one rebound shy of a double-double with 18 points and nine rebounds.
4) A much more relaxed Melo Trimble
Maryland’s star sophomore had been playing tight and tentative through the season’s first four games. Wednesday was the first time we’ve seen the smooth, relaxed, worry-free Trimble running the point this season.
He worked often out of pick-and-roll sets with Carter, which makes it incredibly difficult for the defense to defend. Hedge out and he’ll dish to Carter. Go over the screen and he’ll drive by you. Go under the screen and he’ll shoot it. That flexibility opened up his game.
Trimble had 12 points in the first half on perfect 5-of-5 shooting and finished with 17 points on 7-of-7 shooting, six rebounds, and four assists.
5) Finally showing what they can be
This is what Maryland should be with the pieces it has and the way Turgeon has assembled them. They should be a versatile, efficient, three-point-shooting machine that jumps out to leads and can bury you late.
All it took was some shots to start falling. Shots fall, they get confident. Get confident and defensive effort improves. Defensive effort improves and that kickstarts the offense, which starts the whole cycle over again.