By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Try as it might, Maryland could never solve Virginia Tech’s 2-3 zone in their ACC men’s basketball game last week in College Park. The Terrapins shot 35.7 percent from the floor — 30 percent from 3-point range — and lost 74-57 before a stunned crowd at Comcast Center.
What worked for the Hokies, however, won’t necessarily work for the ‘Hoos.
Maryland’s next game is against Virginia, which under second-year coach Tony Bennett has played man-to-man defense almost exclusively. Don’t expect the Wahoos (2-3, 11-8) to suddenly morph into a zone team when the Terps (2-3, 12-7) visit John Paul Jones Arena on Thursday night.
Bennett noted after practice Monday night at JPJ that other teams have played zone against Maryland and failed to get the results the Hokies did.
The Terps “just had a cold shooting night,” Bennett said.
Moreover, Bennett worries that his team, which without the injured Mike Scott (10.2 rpg) has struggled on the boards, would have trouble more rebounding out of a zone.
For the season, Maryland (47.7) ranks second among ACC teams in field-goal percentage, behind only Duke (48.0). The evidence would suggest that the Terrapins’ poor shooting against the Hokies was an aberration.
Two days after that defeat, Maryland edged Clemson 79-77 at Comcast Center. Against the Tigers, who played some zone, the Terps shot 50 percent from the floor. They were 8 for 14 on 3-pointers.
Maryland’s main weapon is all-ACC candidate Jordan Williams, who leads the conference in rebounding (12.1 per game) and is fifth in scoring (17.6 ppg). The 6-10, 260-pound sophomore has posted 13 consecutive double-doubles, a Maryland record.
“Every game you play, there’s different kinds of challenges,” Bennett said Monday morning on the weekly ACC coaches’ teleconference.
“With Maryland, I certainly respect Coach [Gary] Williams and how he prepares his teams and how they’re going to come in and be tough-minded and aggressive. And then you have a player like Jordan. He can really change a game. When he gets going, they play at a very high level. You can see that.
“So he presents problems, just with his size, his touch, his ability to play on the glass. You really better do a good job, make him earn. They have, certainly, other capable players, but he’s certainly been at times a dominant player, and we’re going to have to be well aware of him in all aspects of the game.”
In UVa’s man-to-man, 7-0, 239-pound junior Assane Sene is likely to draw the assignment of guarding Williams.
Sene, who averages 3.5 points and 4.5 rebounds, has shown marked improvement recently, and his “ability to play smart and stay out of foul trouble will be important,” Bennett said on his radio show Monday night.
Virginia went through some rough stretches defensively early in the season, especially in blowout losses to Stanford (in Palo Alto, Calif.) and to Washington (at the Maui Invitational).
In its 81-60 win over UVa, the Cardinal shot 56.5 percent from 3-point range. In a 106-63 rout of Virginia, the Huskies hit a staggering 65.4 percent of their long-range attempts.
Those losses are major reasons why, for the season, Virginia ranks 10th among ACC teams in field-goal percentage defense (44.1) and 11th in 3-point percentage defense (37.4).
In ACC games, however, Virginia is fifth in field-goal percentage defense (43.1) and second in 3-point percentage defense (31.2).
“Little by little,” Bennett said, his team’s defense is improving.
UVa’s rotation includes three freshmen — 6-8 Akil Mitchell, 6-6 Joe Harris and 6-4 KT Harrell — and they’re still learning the principles of Bennett’s Pack Line defense.
“We still have a long ways to go,” he said, “but we’re but gaining on it step by step, being harder to score against and making people shoot contested shots.
“The last few games we’ve been a little harder to get quality looks on. That can change, I always understand that. But we’ll see.”