Terps prioritize perimeter defense

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Sean Mosley frequently visited Comcast Center last season, eager to witness what he would soon become a part of with the Maryland basketball program.

There were also facets of the team that he wouldn’t receive an opportunity to enjoy - like the shot-blocking exploits of James Gist and Bambale Osby. Both superlative shot-swatters - they ranked second and third in the ACC a season ago - were seniors last year. With both playing overseas, it gives the Terrapins an unaccustomed interior look.

“It’s a lot different now,” Mosley said. “We have to defend now. We have to talk on defense and rotate because we don’t have a shot-blocker like Boom or Gist.”

Last year’s veteran tandem was the latest in a line of athletic big men who provided insurance to perimeter defenders. Before Gist and Osby, there was Ekene Ibekwe, Lonny Baxter, Terence Morris, Obinna Ekezie and Joe Smith. The only obvious candidate to assume a similar role this year is lanky sophomore Jerome Burney. But he’s only one of several interior options for the Terps (1-0), who play host to Youngstown State (0-1) on Tuesday night at Comcast Center.

“You can worry about it or you can try to do something about it,” coach Gary Williams said.

The most basic solution is improved perimeter defense. Williams said he expects progress at that end of the floor from a backcourt featuring veterans Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez, as well as the athletic Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker.

Other mechanisms could also bolster the Terps. Both Tucker and Landon Milbourne could emerge as reliable shot-blockers, either from the outside or snaring a piece of a shot from behind. There’s also the possibility of deflecting more passes and doubling on the opposition’s post players, as well as Williams’ biggest suggestion - taking more charges.

No matter how it happens, the backcourt doesn’t enjoy the same luxuries it did in the past.

“It puts more pressure on us as guards, keeping guys in front of us and not letting them get to the basket,” Hayes said. “Last year, guys could beat us, but Boom and James would be there and block a lot of shots.”

Not anymore, and it changes the interior philosophy as well. Terps teams of the recent past could eschew a technically efficient defensive approach in favor of the risk of setting up a block. Often, the payoff of a deflected attempt - or merely the psychological edge of thinking it could come - would outweigh yielding an easy shot.

This season, handling basic things like establishing a spot inside and quickly securing rebounds will be needed to provide a substitute.

“We just have to play better position defense,” said forward Dino Gregory, who had two of the Terps’ five blocks in a season-opening rout of Bucknell on Friday. “You have to get there and get to your spots a little quicker.”

Arriving in the right place at the right time will only aid the Terps so much. Ultimately - like so much else with this year’s team - Maryland will need an optimal performance from its guards and steadiness from the frontcourt to make its post defense effective.

“We know,” Hayes said. “We talk about it within ourselves. We have to stop guys and keep guys in front of us because we can’t afford to let guys get to the basket on us.”

Note - Maryland signed forward James Padgett to a letter of intent. Padgett joins forward Jordan Williams, who formally agreed to join the program last week, as part of the Terrapins’ 2009-10 recruiting class.

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