PHILADELPHIA Temple’s defense is for real.
Maryland’s 23rd-ranked basketball team found that out yesterday, committing 27 turnovers and shooting 38.1 percent against the 19th-ranked Owls. The Terps’ struggles against Temple’s swarming matchup zone led to a 73-65 defeat before a sellout crowd of 10,206 at Liacouras Center.
Temple’s defensive stand came two days after Terps coach Gary Williams questioned the authenticity of the Owls’ national defensive ranking. Temple entered the game No. 1 in scoring defense (53.9 points) and No. 2 in field goal percentage defense (35.1).
“Fordham, Rhode Island, UMass, Duquesne,” Williams said Friday, reading off the Owls’ opponents. “We play at a little different level than that. We’ll see what happens.”
What happened was the gradual dismemberment of a Maryland offense that had shot 51 percent during the four-game winning streak it carried into the contest. Yesterday’s shooting percentage and turnover total each was the second-worst of the season by the Terps (17-7).
Williams, when asked about Friday’s comments, launched into a tirade during his post-game news conference. However, during an earlier, more sedate moment, he had this to say:
“There’s no doubt Temple’s defense disrupted us… . When we turn the ball over that much, it means they did a really good job with their defense. We couldn’t seem to hang onto the ball.”
Maryland’s damning statistics were its free throw and 3-point attempts. The Terps attempted just seven free throws (all by Lonny Baxter; all seven were made) and 24 shots from beyond the arc (10 were made).
Before Maryland’s four-game winning streak, the Terps lost at North Carolina when they attempted 27 3-pointers, making 10 of the first 16 but none of the final 11. Maryland immediately began to focus on its interior offensive, and two days later began the four-game win streak with an impressive 82-63 victory at Florida State.
During the first three games of the streak, Maryland attempted more than four times as many free throws as 3-pointers (93 to 22). The streak then culminated with a 98-87 win at No. 3 Duke, even though the free throw/3-pointer ratio (11-to-18) reverted to pre-Florida State percentages.
Also during the streak, Baxter scored 24, 24, 31 and 22 points. Yesterday, the sophomore center had just 11 points on 2-for-7 shooting.
“We didn’t have any patience, there’s no doubt about it,” Williams said. “You go all year in the ACC, you don’t see any zone. Then you come in here and see zone, it’s not easy just to turn around and run all zone offense for 40 minutes.”
Maryland also had difficulty containing Owls forward Lamont Barnes, who finished with 23 points and eight rebounds. The 6-foot-10 senior had been in a slump, scoring in double-digits just three times since Dec. 27.
But despite Maryland’s problems, the Terps led by as many as seven points in the first half and three in the second. The game had 13 lead changes and five ties before Owls sixth-man Lynn Greer grabbed the edge for good by hitting a 3-pointer with 8:36 remaining.
Greer (14 points) hit five of six shots in the second half after going scoreless in the first. He also made a critical pull-up jumper on the left baseline with 2:13 remaining, which capped a 7-0 run and gave Temple a 62-54 edge.
Maryland failed to score on five straight possessions during the 7-0 run. The Terps later pulled as close as 64-60, but sophomore guard Juan Dixon (21 points on 8-for-22 shooting) missed a wide-open 5-foot jumper in the lane.
“We were playing good pressure defense,” Dixon said. “We got a couple steals, but we weren’t able to finish it. That’s a 5-footer I usually hit.”
Maryland’s non-conference schedule now is complete. The Terps next play Wednesday against Georgia Tech, the first of six remaining regular-season opponents.
Meanwhile, Temple (18-4) ran its home winning streak to 20 games and made a statement to the NCAA tournament selection committee.
“At this time of year, I tell the guys it’s time,” Owls coach John Chaney said. “It’s NCAA time. [These] are the big games, and you’ve got to show up for them.”