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Terps' Defense Is Becoming Strong Suit

February 25, 2014

It has seemingly been an uphill battle for the University of Maryland men's basketball team all season. Beginning with a preseason injury to sophomore guard Seth Allen, the Terps have had to battle and earn the success they've had this season. During their 57-55 loss against No. 4 Syracuse University Feb. 24, the Terps had several of their strengths and flaws on display throughout the game.

Since his return in late December, Allen has produced in several areas for the Terps. His main attribute has been scoring. Allen dropped a career-high 32 points during the Terps' Feb. 8 win against Florida State University. Against Syracuse, Allen scored 22 points, including 12 of the team's 24 first-half points. With Maryland struggling for offense, shooting 32 percent at the break, Allen kept his team in the game early.

Terps Basketball 2013-14: Seth Allen (dribbling)
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

"We didn't get up on Allen, especially at the end, we wanted to be up on Allen," Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. "We did not do a good job with him."

To start the season, Maryland's defense had a lot to improve on. The Terps gave up 90 points during their Nov. 17 loss against Oregon State, the third game of the season. As the season went on and they entered Atlantic Coast Conference play, their defense became a strong suit. Against Syracuse, Maryland's defense was a major reason why the game was within reach for the majority of the contest. The Terps held the Orange to 40 percent from the field and forced 11 turnovers. 

Despite tying a season high with 18 turnovers, Maryland was in position to beat Syracuse, but Allen missed the potential game-winning 3-pointer with one second left. The Terps' previous game with 18 turnovers was a 77-75 loss against George Washington University Dec. 8. Maryland entered the game averaging 12 turnovers per game for the season and equaled that number at halftime. The Terps' 18 turnovers led to 26 points for the Orange.

At point guard, Allen has been able to limit turnovers since making his return. His season high had been three turnovers, but against Syracuse's star freshman Tyler Ennis and the Orange's zone defense, Allen committed five turnovers. 

"You want to be poised, but the crowd gets you going," Allen said. "They're very long. We have never played a zone like that. Syracuse is famous for their 2-3 zone. We had a good game plan -- it was a couple nitpicky plays."

Under Boeheim, Syracuse has been known for its strong zone defense. Maryland has struggled to find offense against the zone all season, and it was not any different against the Orange. The Terps shot 35 percent from the field and had difficulties attacking the basket throughout the game. 

"Their zone is unique," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said, "and we just didn't attack it the way we needed to attack it."

Maryland has relied on making 3-point shots to produce offense. Through several games, if the Terps didn't make shots from beyond the arc, the game likely ended in a loss. Against Syracuse, the Terps shot 8-of-22 (36 percent) from 3-point range, relying on 3-point attempts for more than 50 percent of their shots. 

The Comcast Center has provided energy for the Terps for most of the season. With a 10-4 record at home, the Terps have gotten an added advantage from the College Park crowd almost every game. Even without playing their best game, Maryland was able to stay within reach of the No. 4 team in the country and had an opportunity to win during the closing seconds.

"I thought we had a great crowd," Turgeon said. "We didn't give them a lot to cheer about for the first 35 minutes, but they stuck with us. I thought they were tremendous down the stretch and gave us a chance to win the game, because their energy in the building was great."

When their backs have been against the wall, the Terps have seemingly played their best basketball. Three times throughout the season, Maryland has dropped consecutive ACC games and was able to respond wins at home to prevent a three-game skid. 

Against Syracuse, the Terps overcame a 12-point second-half deficit to bring the game to 56-55 with less than a minute remaining. Maryland junior guard Nick Faust drove to the basket, but lost the ball on a shot Syracuse senior center Baye Moussa Keita contested. 

"I thought Nick got fouled," Turgeon said. "I think the replay showed that, but it has been that type of year for us. Didn't call it, and they win the game."

As they did during a season-opening loss against the University of Connecticut, a Feb. 15 loss at Duke University and several other games, the Terps were one bounce or call away from pulling out a win. 

"We have bad plays," Dez Wells said. "We have good plays. It's all part of the game. They're a good team; we're a good team. We could have won this game, just like we could have won against Duke and Virginia and all the good teams we have been playing really close."

Follow Chris on Twitter @Garmelo10.

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