Maryland Terps

ND State defense facing dominant run game again

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ND State defense facing dominant run game again

FARGO, N.D. (AP) North Dakota State's Travis Beck didn't hesitate when asked how fellow linebacker Grant Olson could top last week's record-setting, 29-tackle effort in a playoff victory over Wofford.

``He'll probably break it again,'' Beck said.

A crazy notion, perhaps, but Olson should be the center of attention again Friday night in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinal against visiting Georgia Southern, like Wofford a triple-option team that runs the ball almost all the time.

Olson, a 6-foot, 223-pound junior from Plymouth, Minn., cracked a wide smile when asked if he enjoys playing an option team.

``For me, yes. For other guys, not so much,'' Olson said. ``I know the defensive line doesn't exactly enjoy taking on blocks the entire time. For me, you get to play the run and tackle people. It's a lot of fun.''

Olson said he was hoping, for the sake of his defensive linemen, that the defending FCS champion Bison (12-1) would play Old Dominion, a passing team, so the players up front would have a chance to do what they enjoy the most - sack the quarterback.

``But unfortunately for them, they don't get to do it,'' he said.

Georgia Southern leads the country with a rushing average of 409 yards per game. The Southern Conference team has not thrown the ball more than 10 times in a single game and went one contest - against Wofford - without attempting a single pass.

The Eagles (10-3) have a former running back at quarterback in Jerick McKinnon, who leads the team in rushing with 1,736 yards, and ran for 316 yards in one game. They have a running back, Dominique Swope, who has piled up 1,169 yards and 16 touchdowns despite missing three starts with a concussion.

Some believe that the Bison, who rose to prominence in Division II with an option game, dumped that offense because it couldn't work in Division I. Three teams run it in the Southern Conference.

``It works at this level. Georgia Southern has proven that. A number of teams have proven that,'' NDSU defensive coordinator Chris Klieman said. ``It just goes to the old adage, if you can run the football and play defense, you're going to have the chance to win a lot of football games.''

The key to defending the Eagles? Olson said the Bison should have a ``guy on pitch, guy on quarterback, guy on dive.'' Klieman said the Bison linebackers need to get a clean shot at the ball carrier and finish their tackles.

``That QB has made a ton of people miss,'' Klieman said of McKinnon. ``And if you make the first guy miss it's a foot race. Not too many people are catching him right now.''

Like Wofford, Georgia Southern's offense neutralizes NDSU's most explosive defender, two-time All-American cornerback Marcus Williams. Even though most teams throw away from him, Williams has five interceptions, including one he returned 98 yards for a touchdown.

Olson said Williams has a difficult assignment trying to stay sharp for a surprise pass.

``He has to cover his man every single play. And 65 out of 70 snaps they're not even going to pass the ball so he's running downfield doing nothing,'' Olson said. ``But it's those five other snaps when they throw it deep, he has to be perfect.''

The game is a repeat of last year's semifinal in which the Bison defeated the Eagles 35-7 at the Fargodome. Bison head coach Craig Bohl said this year's edition of Georgia Southern is more athletic and explosive, especially at quarterback, than last year.

Conversely, Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken, whose team played Alabama last year, said NDSU is the closest thing to the Crimson Tide he's seen in his three years with the Eagles.

``They've got a great defense,'' Monken said of the Bison. ``They don't hold people to 11 points a game because they have one player. They've got a bunch of guys who play good and they are well-coached.''

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Follow Dave Kolpack on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/DaveKolpackAP

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Maryland's seven-game winning streak ends in blowout fashion to Spartans

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Maryland's seven-game winning streak ends in blowout fashion to Spartans

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Cassius Winston and Kenny Goins scored 14 points each to help No. 6 Michigan State beat No. 13 Maryland 69-55 Monday night with balanced offense and stifling defense.

The Spartans (17-2, 8-0 Big Ten) have won 12 straight this season to take sole possession of first in the conference. They have won 20 consecutive Big Ten regular season games dating to last year.

The Terrapins (16-4, 7-2) had a shot to move into first place in the conference, but couldn't extend their seven-game winning streak.

Maryland's leading scorer, Anthony Cowan, was held to a season-low seven points.

The Terrapins connected on just 34 percent of their shots against the Spartans after shooting 58 percent of in their previous game, a 14-point win at Ohio State.

Michigan State freshman Aaron Henry scored a season-high 12 points while Matt McQuaid and Xavier Tillman had 10 points apiece.

Bruno Fernando had 12 points and 13 rebounds, freshman Aaron Wiggins had a season-high 15 points and Darryl Morsell added 10 points.

The Spartans missed their first six shots then surged to an 18-6 lead while holding Maryland to 3-of-18 shooting.

Maryland started making shots to pull into 20-all tie before Michigan State closed half with an 11-0 run to lead 31-20.

Winston, who had just five points in the first half, opened the second half with a 3-pointer to put the Spartans ahead by 14. He had a three-point play a couple minutes later, giving Michigan State a 43-26 lead. Goins made a 3-pointer to push the lead to 22 with 15:28 left.

The Terrapins rallied to cut their deficit to 11 with 5:42 remaining, but couldn't get closer.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: Cowan crumbled against Michigan State's defense. He had scored 20-plus points in four straight games and was averaging 17.9 points entering the game before being held nearly 11 below his average on 3-of-12 shooting. Cowan made a shot early in the game then was held scoreless for 26-plus minutes.

Michigan State: In its only home game during a five-game stretch, the Spartans showed they can win without injured starter Joshua Langford and basically without struggling starter Nick Ward. Langford missed his sixth straight game with an ankle injury. Ward was held scoreless for the first time in his career, limited to 14 minutes at least in part because he was in foul trouble. Kyle Ahrens, who has started seven games this year, returned from a two-game absence with a back injury and made a reverse layup to help hold off Maryland in the second half.

UP NEXT

Maryland: Gives up home game to play Illinois at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Michigan State: Plays at No. 19 Iowa on Thursday night and at Purdue on Sunday afternoon.

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So the Wizards have gotten back in the playoff race and here's why

So the Wizards have gotten back in the playoff race and here's why

During the Wizards' recent 10-game surge, in which they have won seven games and vaulted back into the playoff race, there have been many reasons for their near-overnight transformation. The most dramatic change between now and the previous 36 games of this season, however, may be on the defensive end.

The Wizards, for much of this season, have been dreadful on defense. They are 23rd in the league in defensive rating (111.1) and have allowed the second-most points per game (115.8) of any team. The latter has them on pace to allow more points than any Wizards or Bullets team has since 1970.

But lately, they have flipped the narrative. In their last 10 games going back to Dec. 29, the Wizards are fourth in the NBA in defensive rating (106.4). 

On Monday, they held the Pistons to only 87 points, a season-low for a Washington opponent. That included a 34-point first half for Detroit, the fewest the Wizards have given up in a half this season.

The previous season-low for points scored in one half against the Wizards was set in their last game when the Knicks scored 37 in the second half on Thursday. That means the Wizards gave up only 71 points across four quarters, the equivalent of a full game.

The Knicks and Pistons are 23rd and 25th in scoring this season, respectively, but that remains an impressive stretch for the Wizards' defense. They are locking up opponents and coming away with victories.

"Our defense, overall, has just been better," forward Jeff Green said after the 101-87 win over the Pistons. "We’ve been communicating and not allowing teams to get a lot of offensive rebounds, forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. We’ve been on the same page defensively."

Against the Pistons, the Wizards allowed only two offensive rebounds, tying the fewest they've surrendered this season. It helped the Pistons were missing Andre Drummond, but that remains no small feat for the Wizards, who give up more offensive boards (11.7/g) than any team.

Like Green, head coach Scott Brooks mentioned the rebounds after Monday's win. 

"We give ourselves a chance to win every night if we can win the rebounding game," he said.

Indeed, the Wizards are a perfect 11-0 this season when they win the rebounding margin. In games they either lose the rebounding margin or tie, they are 9-26.

As the Wizards have shown all season, rebounding is a crucial part of defense. Forcing an opponent to miss a shot is only part of the battle. The stop is completed once the defensive rebound is reeled in.

Defense and rebounding have been major problems for the Wizards this season and both deal with effort. Because of that, Brooks and his players have often lamented a lack of want-to in the Wizards' lowest moments.

Recently, the effort has been there. It probably has something to do with the desperation of losing three key players - John Wall, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard - to injuries. With what's left on their roster, they don't have the luxury of starting slow or losing focus in games. The margin for error is thin.

But the Wizards' improvement on defense can also be credited to a midseason roster makeover done by their front office. They changed the team's defensive DNA with guys like Trevor Ariza, Chasson Randle, and Sam Dekker. In these past 10 games, all three have posted defensive ratings under 105. They have infused the Wizards' rotation with a blue-collar approach to team defense.

Ariza, of course, deserves most of the credit. He has built a 15-year career off hard-nosed perimeter defense. 

This week, Brooks explained how Ariza's discipline has been integral in the Wizards' recent turnaround.

"Trevor definitely helps," Brooks said. "He's not going to get a stop every time, but he's going to give you great effort. He's not going to gamble a lot. He's not going to take the immature chances that might lead to a steal and a dunk in transition, but most likely it's not. He doesn't take those gambles."

Defense and the Wizards have not been synonymous for most of this season. But over the past 10 games, they have played with a new identity and it might be the key to saving their season.

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