Converting defense into offense Maryland men’s basketball comes back to defeat Michigan State

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Darryl Morsell flared to the open space on the left elbow and drained a three, which extended Maryland’s (16-12, 10-11 B1G) lead to 11 with 11:43 remaining. 

The ensuing possession, Morsell forced a turnover on Aaron Henry and was the beneficiary of a transition feed from Aaron Wiggins for the lay-in that extended the Terps’ lead to 13. That ability to convert defense into offense was a key formula of success for Maryland throughout as they scored 27 points off the Spartans (15-12, 9-12 B1G) 18 turnovers in the 68-57 win. That win is the Terps first in the Big Ten Tournament since 2016.

“Yeah and it was terrific,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Our hands were active, we talk about it all the time. We got some great length with Eric Ayala, Hakim Hart, Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell, Donta Scott. It was good to get some easy ones, it really was.”

Eric Ayala led the Terps with 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while Wiggins chipped in 19 points with six rebounds and two assists spearheading Maryland’s offensive attack. The duo found most of their success attacking the basketball converting 17 of 20 free throw attempts.

In addition to attacking the basket, locking in defensively played a large factor as the Terps outscored the Spartans 24-4 from the 5:40 mark of the first half to the 13:43 mark of the second half. Over that stretch, Michigan State went without a field goal and committed nine of their 18 turnovers.

Rebounding has been a struggle for Maryland all season, however, that wasn’t the story against Michigan State as the Terps grabbed 10 offensive rebounds, seven of which came from their guards. 

“Yeah I mean that’s really good for us,” Wiggins said. “One emphasis before the game, coach Turgeon said let’s see who comes out with the most rebounds. Our guards did a really good job of taking on the challenge and trying to out rebound not only their bigs, but their guards as well.”

Unlike its last contest against Michigan State, Maryland started out of the gates slowly settling for contested perimeter opportunities and struggling to guard. The Spartans made eight of their first 11 shots of the game.

Rocket Watts and Malik Hall each buried a triple, while Marcus Bingham Jr and Joey Hauser converted inside. Conversely, Maryland made just three of its first 11 shots, including five misses from behind the arc.

However, after Hauser converted a jumper in the lane extending the Spartans lead to 23-11 with 10:21 remaining, the Terps orchestrated a 23-7 run to close out the first half. 

“We weren’t guarding, we weren’t really locked in on our defensive assignments and then we did,” Turgeon said of the opening ten minutes.” 

The first four points of that run came from Ayala attacking the basket, while Jairus Hamilton tacked on a spot up three bringing Maryland to within five. Ayala’s success at the free-throw line helped fuel the Terps’ comeback.

After Henry buried a three as the clock expired with 5:40 remaining the Spartans offense went the remainder of the first half. Maryland’s momentum continued to surge forward with Ayala serving as the lead catalyst finding success at the line.

He converted six consecutive free throws including four after one drive as Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was called for a technical foul. On the ensuing possession, the Terps took their first lead since the opening minutes when Hakim Hart drained a three.

While Maryland’s continued commitment to attacking individual matchups led to success at the foul line, the defensive intensity that has brought them great success this season returned. Ayala capped off the first half with a rocker step past Joshua Langford burying a stepback three giving the Terps a four-point advantage at the break.

“We locked in, we started competing, battling,” Turgeon said. “We were able to space them, spread the floor a little bit. We did a good job of driving it and getting downhill.”

Building on their momentum from the ladder stages of the first half, the Terps executed an 8-0 run over the opening 5:25 of the second half. 

Wiggins’ crafty finger roll finish off the glass after a pirouette in the lane highlighted the run. Ayala capped off that spurt with a tough rebound over the much taller Hauser drawing contact for the finish, giving the Terps a 12-point lead with 14:35 remaining.

Less than a minute earlier, A.J. Hoggard and Bingham Jr. converted back-to-back buckets ending Michigan State’s prolonged 11:57 scoring drought. However, Morsell’s aforementioned back-to-back buckets allowed Maryland to regain momentum.

From that point on, Maryland maintained a double digit lead the remainder of the way pushing the deficit to 18 with 8:25 remaining. Wiggins and Hamilton sparked the Terps offense after Morsell with craftiness and creativity offensively maneuvering in the lane for tough finishes.

Despite Hall’s best efforts to will the Spartans back, Maryland’s lead grew too large and the Terps picked up a much-needed win that all but cements their status in the NCAA Tournament. 

The Terps won’t have long to rest as they face off against No. 1 seed Michigan at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow.

“I think we’re a bunch of warriors,” Hamilton said. “We’ve always had our backs against the wall throughout this year, we’ve had a lot of down periods. We always find a way to respond, we’ve got that grit, we’ve got that toughness inside of us.”

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