Mike Smith was calm when he crossed halfcourt with just 1:06 left on the clock and a Maryland men’s basketball defender on his hip. The half was almost to a close and Michigan was up comfortably.
Then, he saw a gap. The Wolverines guard turned on the jets, sprinting past Hakim Hart, Aquan Smart and Eric Ayala. With Donta Scott looming, Smith scooped the ball with his right hand, using the rim as a shield before laying it in. Michigan’s lead was 15.
It would only grow, as the Terps struggled to contain the likes of Smith and Isaiah Livers. And although Maryland was successful in blotting Hunter Dickinson’s impact, its inability to stop Michigan’s supporting cast proved pivotal as coach Mark Turgeon’s squad fell to the Wolverines, 87-63.
“I think we could’ve competed a little bit more and maybe then, our defense would’ve been a little bit better,” Turgeon said. “It’s a product of who we are right now, unfortunately, but we just gotta keep plugging.”
Heading into Monday’s game, the Terps’ gameplan was simple: shut Dickinson down. The DeMatha alum was torrid when the Wolverines came to College Park on New Year’s Eve, dropping 26 points and 11 rebounds on 10-of-11 shooting.
And it seemed coach Mark Turgeon’s squad had a handle on Dickinson early. Galin Smith fronted Dickinson in the early goings, using his sturdy base to throw the Michigan big off. Meanwhile, Maryland’s wings seemed keenly aware of Dickinson’s location, sending double teams in an effort to alter his rhythm.
The strategy was effective to start. Dickinson went scoreless in the opening half, unable to carve out the sort of space in the paint that made him so effective back in December. However, it was the Wolverines’ complementary pieces that took over, finding joy as the Terps’ defense scrambled to blight Dickinson’s threat.
It started with Mike Smith, who hit a trio of three-pointers in the opening four minutes of the first, putting Michigan up eight. That scoring touch would soon find other members of the Wolverines, too. Livers knocked in two triples of his own, the last of which sent Michigan’s bench — and coach Juwan Howard — into a frenzy. Maryland was down 14 with a little less than six minutes gone.
“We did some stuff that I haven’t seen before and our rotations and our communication weren’t great,” Turgeon said. “We weren’t ourselves tonight and they were terrific and that’s not a really good recipe for success.”
Turgeon’s squad would eventually climb its way back into the game, fueled by forward Donta Scott. He scored seven points in the first, including back-to-back jumpers through tight defense. Still, the Terps were largely impotent, hitting just two of their first 10 threes while going 5-of-10 from the free-throw line.
“They throw a lot of different stuff at you. They play some zone,” guard Darryl Morsell said. “They well-coached. … We just never got adjusted to it.”
Hart cut the Wolverines lead to nine with 5:35 left in the first half. But Maryland scored just six points in the rest of the frame. Dickinson locked down the paint, swatting three shots. Guard Eli Brooks, who didn’t play in Michigan’s 18-point loss to then-No. 23 Minnesota on Saturday, harassed the Terps’ wings throughout.
And following Smith’s layup and a last-second Franz Wagner corner three, the Wolverines’ lead stood at 17.
That lead would only swell in the second. Livers played a starring role, notching 12 points in the frame to lead all scorers with 20. Forward Austin Davis also impressed, providing a constant presence in the post, even as Dickinson struggled to get involved in the offense.
Maryland was far less decisive, by comparison. Turgeon’s offense looked lifeless at times, toiling against the likes of Brooks and Wagner — two of the Big Ten’s finest defenders.
“Just us basically not capitalizing where they was capitalizing,” Scott said. “That’s what kinda messed us up.”
There were occasional moments of life: Morsell was hit in the face while going up for a layup halfway through the second, drawing a lively reaction — and a pair of technical fouls — from Morsell and Maryland’s bench.
Still, Michigan was in control. And as the lineups shifted from starters to supporting cast and eventually to walk-ons, the Wolverines’ dominance in depth was clear, the Terps unable to stop the bleeding en route to a 24-point defeat.
“I think we gotta dial in on some of the little things. I think we can just build from that,” Morsell said. “Making sure we execute defensively on our rotation, making more free throws, just some small stuff. I think just dialing in on that could help us in the long run.”