- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) - Upon launching this season of lofty expectations, Maryland figured it had enough shooting stars to bury the opposition under a barrage of baskets.

Turns out, the second-ranked Terrapins are winning primarily on the strength of their defense.

Maryland is allowing a Big Ten-low 63.8 points per game. The Terps (21-3, 10-2) also lead the conference in field-goal percentage defense (.385) and blocked shots (72).

Mark Turgeon has been coaching at the college level since 1998, and he can’t remember having a team that defended so well.

After Maryland limited Purdue to 61 points and 3-for-25 shooting from beyond the arc in an 11-point victory Saturday, Turgeon declared: “I have had some really good defensive teams, but right now we are playing at a level that I don’t know I have seen as a head coach.”

Turgeon emphasized defense at the first practice in October, but his message didn’t take hold until late November, when the Terrapins realized there would be nights when scoring would be difficult.

At that point, they finally bought in.

“It was hard because everyone was telling them how gifted we were offensively,” Turgeon said Monday. “Finally, after four or five games when we didn’t shoot the ball well, it was like, ‘Well, we’d better start guarding at a high level.’”

And now, the Terrapins can fully appreciate the value of a collective effort on the defensive end.

“We try to make defense our identity,” guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “We have the physical tools to be a great defensive team. It’s all about locking in and giving effort.”

As a defense, Maryland is a sum of its parts. The same can be said about the offense, with each starter averaging in double figures.

There is no telling where the points will come from on any given night. Sophomore guard Melo Trimble leads the team with a modest 14.8 average, but he is 16 for 42 from the field in his last four games.

The Terrapins won them all, anyway.

“When our shots don’t fall, we rely on our defense,” forward Robert Carter Jr. said. “We have bunch of long guys who can move on their feet, rebound and block shots. We’re just trying to use that to our advantage.”

Carter had two blocks and a steal against Purdue. Three days earlier, freshman Diamond Stone blocked eight shots and collected 10 rebounds in a win at Nebraska.

“They’ve all bought in,” Turgeon said. “The biggest thing is that Robert and Diamond have just become better defenders.”

After playing four conference games in 10 days, the Terrapins get a relative break Tuesday night at home against Division II foe Bowie State. Turgeon hopes to give some of his regulars a bit less playing time than usual, but regardless of who’s on the court, defense will be a priority for a team with Final Four aspirations.

“We feel like defense wins championships,” Carter said. “In order for us to accomplish our goals, we’ve got to stop people from scoring. That’s a huge part of the game. It’s not all about offense.”

In a tight game, a stop on the defensive end is pivotal. That’s one reason why Maryland is 8-1 this season in games decided by seven points or fewer.

“(Turgeon) tells us that your shot is not going to fall every night, but your effort and energy on defense can always be consistent,” Carter said. “He’s a firm believer in that, and most of his teams win close games.”

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