COLLEGE PARK - Less-talented Maryland teams have played excellent defense during the 13-year tenure of coach Gary Williams.
The current crop of Terrapins, who are ranked No. 3 with a seven-game winning streak and plan to extend the nation's longest home-court, nonconference winning streak to 82 games tonight against visiting Monmouth (N.J.) University, are beginning to spoil their coach.
During Sunday night's 79-54 whipping of Detroit, a team with serious upset aspirations, the Terps staged another clinic on how to stuff an opponent.
Watching Detroit try to push the ball inside, swing it around the perimeter or exploit a passing lane to extract a high-percentage shot was painful at times. Watching Maryland create steals and easy baskets on the perimeter, block or alter shots inside and generally cause havoc was equally impressive.
Detroit, which took Michigan State to the wire in an earlier loss this year, committed 11 turnovers and converted only eight field goals in the first half. By the end of a very frustrating night, the Titans had shot just 30.8 percent and limped out of Cole Field House after producing a season-low 54 points.
When asked what has impressed him most about Maryland's 7-1 start, Williams pointed to the way the Terps have put a stop to people, game after game.
"The fact that we can come out and make teams really work hard to score, it gives our offense a chance to get going," said Williams, who figures to collect his 250th victory at Maryland tonight against Monmouth (4-3). "We usually break loose, where we can get some easy baskets, and that gives us confidence."
The Terps are quite confident these days, as they prepare for a 10-day break for final exams, before resuming their schedule at Oklahoma on Dec. 21. Eight games into the season, they have limited opponents to 35.3 percent shooting and an average of 60.8 points.
For the season, no one has shot more than 44 percent against Maryland. Not even Arizona, which handed the Terps a 71-67 loss in their season opener on Nov. 8 with a 43.9 percent night from the field. Opponents are making only 27.3 percent of their three-point attempts. Maryland has averaged 7.2 steals and is forcing 15.5 turnovers per game.
The trend goes back further. Dating to last season, when the Terps got hot and rolled to their first Final Four appearance, 16 of Maryland's last 17 opponents have shot below 44 percent from the field. Twelve have failed to make 40 percent of their attempts.
In other words, Monmouth figures to have a rough time finding a clear look at the rim, whether a big man like 6-foot-8 Lonny Baxter or 6-10 Tahj Holden is causing problems in the paint, or someone like Byron Mouton or Juan Dixon is lying in wait on the perimeter.
The Hawks, who are coming off a 76-70 loss to Princeton, are averaging 61.9 points on 41.9 percent shooting. Monmouth basically lives and dies by the play of 6-foot point guard Rahsaan Johnson, the reigning conference Player of the Year who is averaging 18.9 points and five assists.
Williams, who is giving the team off tomorrow and Thursday, expects his players to keep up their good habits.
"If it was just a shooting contest all last year, I don't think we would have been as good," Williams said. "I think these guys are buying into the fact that, if we're going to compete this year on a high level, we have to be good defensively. We can't just outscore teams."
NOTES: In Sunday's victory, Dixon moved into fourth place in steals in ACC history. Dixon now has 268, having passed former Duke star Shane Battier (266). Former Terp Johnny Rhodes leads with 344. ... A win over Monmouth would give Williams his fourth 8-1 start at Maryland. ... Holden set a career high with six blocked shots against Detroit. ... Junior Drew Nicholas, who had six points and five rebounds against Detroit, will go back to the bench after replacing Mouton in the starting lineup for one game. ... Baxter needs 46 points to reach 1,500 for his career. He also has made 13 of his last 15 free throws (.867), after beginning the season by making 20 of 41 (.488).
Site: Cole Field House, College Park
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)