We have lift-off.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Maryland men’s basketball guard Hakim Hart sent a bounce pass behind him to forward Julian Reese. Reese laid down the dunk, a two-handed slam, and his second dunk on back-to-back possessions.
The sophomore forward finished with 14 points in Maryland men’s basketball’s 73-55 victory against Wisconsin, then added another 8 against Nebraska on 66% shooting.
Before the Michigan game, head coach Kevin Willard joked about how the conference loves him by facing Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, Purdue’s Zach Edey, and Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl each two times, let alone the three of them in a row in a six-day stretch.
“I definitely feel my confidence increasing after every game,” Reese said prior to the Wisconsin game. “Playing against guys with such a high skill level and highly touted players in the nation…and holding my own against them is really helping my confidence.”
Going into the season, there were serious questions on how the Terps would match up against these top centers when their tallest starter is Reese, who is just 6-foot-9. Yet the Terps performed adamantly well, defeating both Michigan and Wisconsin while falling to then No. 3 Purdue by just three points. (Purdue moved up to No. 1 this week.)
Yet the Terps got production from the center position in all three games. While backup center Caelum Swanton-Rodger had the signature dunk over Dickinson and the more quality minutes, Reese still chipped in six points and nine rebounds in the win.
Against Edey, Reese had one of his best games of the season, playing 34 minutes while scoring 19 points against one of the best centers in the country. Reese also flashed his pull-up jumper that looked automatic while playing 27 minutes with two fouls.
“Zach had an unbelievable night, but I thought he [Reese] had an unbelievable night,” head coach Kevin Willard said prior to the Wisconsin game. “So I thought we won that position too. He’s healthy, and I think he’s got a lot of confidence.”
Reese shared Willard’s sentiment when commenting on his big performance against Purdue and Edey.
“It’s been improving steadily,” Reese said. “Having to score in a game like that just shows the different ways I can score against bigger opponents like Zach Edey. You have no idea how tall he is and how big and wide he is. It shows me how to score and use my speed around guys.”
Against Wisconsin, Reese was one of four starters to score in double figures finishing the game with 14 points, laying down dunks and jumpers, giving the packed student section something to cheer for. The Terps also did a good job limiting Wahl to only his average, as Maryland outplayed Wisconsin in almost every category. Wahl averaged 12.8 points a game at the time and scored just 13 points in the loss.
“He’s been doing a really good job with the other team’s bigs,” forward Donta Scott said after the Wisconsin victory. “He’s just developed a lot as he is just trying to be the smartest basketball player he can be. He’s able to make key plays to keep us in most games.”
Reese’s increasing confidence is a good boost for the Terps for the rest of this season and in the future, if he consistently scores double-digit points and grabs rebounds while playing in foul trouble.
“I think he’s played better defense [in foul trouble] than he is with no fouls because he’s stayed aggressive, but at the same time has been smarter about what he’s doing,” Willard said.
Currently, Maryland sits in a four-way tie for seventh in the Big Ten. However, Maryland only sits two games back of second in the conference due to the competitive nature that’s commenced. A couple key wins in upcoming weeks could put the Terps in an ideal situation towards the final stretch.
The Terps hit the court at Xfinity Center again tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. to take on No. 21 Indiana.