ORLANDO, Fla. — First, guard Trevon Bluiett drilled a long-range shot, pushing Xavier even with the Maryland men’s basketball team with about 13 minutes to play Thursday night. Forward Sean O’Mara followed with a layup. Then Bluiett nailed two more triples, and after forward Kaiser Gates joined the 3-point barrage, the Musketeers led by double digits.
But Maryland’s defense wasn’t solely to blame in the game-changing, three-minute-and-48-second sequence of its 76-65 NCAA tournament defeat in the Round of 64. The Terps, as they did twice in their Big Ten tournament quarterfinal loss to Northwestern, endured another scoring drought, this one lasting nearly five minutes. They missed four shots and committed two turnovers over that stretch.
For much of the second half, Xavier played multiple defenses. There was the Musketeers’ 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, as well as their man-to-man defense.
The changes in scheme, coach Mark Turgeon said, resulted in enough offensive confusion for the Musketeers to build a comfortable advantage in the Terps’ season-ending defeat.
“They were playing three different defenses, and everybody’s got to recognize it on the floor,” Turgeon said. “That really hurt us more than anything because we had some bad possessions because guys weren’t in the right positions.”
Opponents’ zones bothered Maryland this season, starting when it shot under 35 percent against Pittsburgh on Nov. 29. But even after the 14-point home defeat, Turgeon begged teams to zone the Terps. He ensured his players would make shots.
Still, the Terps continued to struggle. They hit 11 threes against Iowa’s zone on Feb. 25, but did so at a 34.2 percent clip in their 83-69 loss at Xfinity Center.
Those issues were apparent again early on against Xavier’s zone, even though forward Ivan Bender said the team worked against it in the four practices leading up to Thursday. Maryland settled for perimeter jumpers that often clanged off the rim. A more than three-minute scoreless spell put it in a 17-8 hole about midway through the first half.
“We were waiting for Melo [Trimble], Kevin [Huerter] and Justin [Jackson] to make some plays,” Bender said.
Maryland curbed its offensive drought by getting the ball into the middle, which forward L.G. Gill said was “wide up” due to Xavier’s spacing. The Terps worked through their big men standing at the free throw line, leading to point-blank layups and open 3-pointers they began to knock down.
After scoring 13 points the opening 10 minutes, Turgeon’s group scored 23 points the rest of the period to secure a one-point halftime lead.
“Against the zone, you get it into the middle, and that’s where the zone breaks down. Obviously, it was working for us,” Huerter said. “Then they started switching defenses in the second half, and we weren’t getting the same type of looks.”
When Xavier guarded the Terps man-to-man, guard Jared Nickens said the Musketeers big men stayed with Trimble longer than teams usually do on ball screens. In response, Gill said Maryland tried implementing more pick and rolls. Using different screen angles, the Terps hoped Trimble and guard Anthony Cowan would have more success driving to the basket.
After a possession or two, though, Xavier would switch to a zone defense. Those driving lanes vanished. The Terps had to revert to their first-half offense philosophy.
The Musketeers flip-flopped between the two for much of the second half.
Still, the Terps appeared to have enough success against each of the defenses to warrant its 13th straight first-round NCAA tournament victory. They shot 41 percent, committed 11 turnovers and shot 19 free throws. They led by as many as six in the second half.
Yet once Xavier’s 14-0 run pushed its lead to 11 with about nine minutes to play, the Terps’ comeback bid seemed to warrant an offensive execution rate they couldn’t match.
“There were times we were slow to adjust. But I don’t think there was one defense that was stopping us,” Huerter said. “We just didn’t hit shots in the second half.”