During most of the Terrapins men’s basketball team’s defensive possessions in Sunday’s 84-39 exhibition victory against Catholic, guard Dez Wells stood at the top of the key with his knees bent, waiting to meet Cardinals point guard Kyle Phanord.
Once the 5-foot-11 Phanord reached Wells, who stands 6-foot-5, it was clear to the announced 7,019 at Comcast Center that the Terps junior towered over his counterpart. And on the wing, 6-foot-8 Terps forward Jake Layman was matched up with Phanord’s brother, Kevin, and had a 9-inch height advantage over the shifty guard.
While that discrepancy in size helped the Terps overpower the Cardinals, it also served as an apt tune-up for a team that will be forced to guard comparatively small lineups all season long.
When starting point guard Seth Allen broke his foot in practice last week, Wells and 6-foot-3 guard Roddy Peters became the Terps’ shortest rotational players. Those two, Layman and 6-foot-6 guard Nick Faust, will often be tasked with defending smaller and quicker players.
The Terps won’t wait long to be challenged by solid guard play, either. They open the season Friday against No. 18 Connecticut, a team that relies heavily on dynamic guards Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun.
“It was definitely good practice for us to play against a team with a bunch of guards and smaller guys in Catholic,” Layman said. “UConn’s got some great guards, and Friday’s coming soon, so we’re pumped up.”
Overall, coach Mark Turgeon seemed pleased with the Terps’ defensive effort against the Division III Cardinals. Turgeon’s rotational players didn’t let up despite playing major minutes against an overmatched opponent and held Catholic to 25 percent shooting from the field.
“I thought we played well defensively pretty much the whole game,” Turgeon said. “We guarded, we kept guarding and our guys played for 40 minutes on the defensive end.”
Still, Catholic’s guards challenged the Terps on Sunday, and Layman said he struggled at times to stay in front of his shiftier opponent. The Terps will start Layman at small forward, a natural fit because of his athleticism.
As a result, Layman will typically be tasked with chasing much smaller players around the floor, as he did against 5-foot-11 Kevin Phanord on Sunday, and he admits that’s not easy to do. He’ll rely on his length to keep quicker guards out of the lane.
“It’s definitely hard for me because I’m taller,” Layman said. “It’s good and bad for me because I can still close out short and make them shoot jumpers and stuff like that.”
Faust will also be challenged defensively, and Turgeon has tabbed the sophomore as his best perimeter defender.
Faust was matched up with the Cardinals’ leading returning scorer, Steve Limberiou. It was a solid audition for Faust, too, as he held Limberiou to 3-of-12 shooting from the field and seven points in 33 minutes.
“Nick Faust defensively was tremendous tonight,” Turgeon said. “[Limberiou] can really shoot the ball.”
Peters also impressed Turgeon with his defensive effort. The freshman point guard will likely have to defend a potent scorer Friday night in Brooklyn, N.Y., so Turgeon knows how important it is to have Peters locked in.
“Where I was really proud of Roddy was on the defensive end,” Turgeon said. “That’s where he doesn’t like to play a lot. He really concentrated and took on the challenge, so that was better.”
Both Peters and Faust used their quickness to match up well with Catholic’s smaller guards Sunday. That helped the Terps stifle Catholic, but the exhibition was just an opportunity to test the team’s defensive acumen.
Friday marks the beginning of games that matter, and the Terps understand that Boatright, Napier and Calhoun will be much tougher to slow down.
“They have really good, quick, fast guards,” Faust said. “So we’re looking forward to it. We know it’s going to be a challenge.”