A possible pressing need for Maryland

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy,Terps,University of Maryland

Turgeon still hesitant to alter Terps' defense

With quickness, length, depth and an agile shot blocker as a last line of defense, Maryland has all the elements to unravel opponents with fullcourt pressure.

Just one problem: Coach Mark Turgeon isn't a big fan of the tactic -- and perhaps for good reason. Using Turgeon's policy of containment, Maryland has limited foes to 36.7 percent shooting, tied for fifth best in Division I. In a season in which the Terps have already matched last year's victory total, defense has unquestionably been their strong suit.

But with the halfcourt offense of Maryland (17-7, 5-6) failing to develop quality shots and showing little progression, is it time for the Terps to try to get some easy baskets by way of fullcourt pressure?

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When » Saturday, 6 p.m.
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In Sunday's 80-69 loss to Virginia, the only time the Cavaliers appeared unsettled was when Turgeon turned to a 1-3-1 press.

"The crowd got into it. We forced some turnovers and got some layups," Turgeon said Monday. "Our press was good. It was more out of desperation. We have been somewhat of a good pressing team when we've sprinkled it in."

Trailing by a double-digit margin, Maryland turned to the press midway through the second half. On a day when the Terps surrendered season highs in field goal (54.2 percent) and 3-point (57.9 percent) shooting, they did force 16 turnovers and matched their season high with nine steals, including five by freshman Seth Allen.

"The press really sped up the game, got them to take some shots, some quick turnovers. It got our defense going," Allen said. "We're probably gonna practice it a little more to see how it works for us."

But creating turnovers is not emphasized in Turgeon's conservative scheme, which favors positioning over gambling. The Terps induce only 10.3 turnovers per game. Only eight teams in the nation have forced fewer.

That also was a characteristic of his defenses at Texas A&M, which ranked in the bottom 50 in the nation in turnovers forced his first two years. The Aggies created more turnovers in Turgeon's final two years but still finished in the nation's bottom half.

Despite Sunday's success with the press, it didn't sound as if Turgeon was anxious to use it more often.

"It hasn't been our defense. The press worked yesterday. We were in a small lineup. Virginia's not notoriously a good press offense team," Turgeon said. "I think it was more of just a combination of we're down, guys were playing hard, desperation, the crowd was in it and who we were playing."

Maryland fans are accustomed to the Terps pressing. Turgeon's predecessor, Gary Williams, made effective use of fullcourt pressure. In each of his last three years, the Terps averaged at least 15 turnovers forced per game.

So with the quick hands and feet of Allen, the defensive toughness of junior Pe'Shon Howard, the length and quickness of sophomores Nick Faust and Dez Wells and the agility and shot blocking ability of Alex Len (2.0 blocks per game), Maryland will continue to have the weapons to press fullcourt -- just in case they're needed.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner