As Minnesota (13-8, 6-8 B1G) surged forward, trimming Maryland’s (11-10, 5-9 B1G) deficit to six with 2:39 remaining and the shot clock winding down, Aaron Wiggins rose up from the left wing and drilled a three-pointer which halted the Golden Gophers 11-0 run.
That pivotal basket extended Maryland’s lead to nine and gave the Terps some much needed momentum in their 72-59 victory over Minnesota. Wiggins led the Terps with 17 points and was one of four Terps in double-figures.
Darryl Morsell added 13 points, while Eric Ayala scored 12 and Galin Smith contributed 10 points. The Terps are now 21-2 in the last two seasons when Morsell scores 10 or more points.
“We’re getting a little bit better with our execution, [Donta Scott] finally got back to being Donta, [Aaron Wiggins] has been playing well,” head coach Mark Turgeon said of the offensive balance. [Eric Ayala] made some shots, it’s big.”
The offensive futility that has defined Maryland’s most recent losses was largely nonexistent, as the Terps shot 52% overall and 50% from behind the arc —both significant upgrades over recent shooting efforts.
Maryland’s defense was largely effective as well, holding Minnesota to a meager 32% shooting overall and a porous 29% from behind the arc. Throughout, the Terps hands were extended out onto shooters as Marcus Carr, the engine that drives the Golden Gophers’ offensive attack, finished with just nine points on 4-15 shooting. Liam Robbins the Golden Gophers’ anchor down low also struggled mightily as finished with just two points on 1-8 shooting.
“[Darryl Morsell] was terrific again on [Marcus Carr], did a great job,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Our post defense on [Liam Robbins] was terrific, our rotations out of the double teams were good.”
For the opening bucket of the game, Hakim Hart meandered his way around Robbins taking advantage of his matchup on the much taller big man. That was emblematic of Maryland’s offensive success throughout the first 20 minutes, as it shot 58.6% overall and 62.5% from behind the arc.
“Our offense gives our players a lot of freedom, there’s a lot of freedom and opportunity for guys to make plays,” Morsell said. “Guys know where to attack and we’re starting to pick the right spots of when to make plays.”
Maryland’s success offensively fed right into its suffocating defense over the opening eight minutes. Over a 5:11 stretch, the Terps orchestrated an 18-3 run with baskets from five different players which extended the lead to 20-6 with 12:46 remaining in the first half.
Wiggins and Donta Scott each drained a triple as the Terps converted each of their first three attempts from behind the arc. The final basket of that run was the most impressive as Smith threw down a thunderous jam on the feed from Ayala. Smith’s dunk came on the heels of an emphatic block of Jamal Mashburn Jr.
Minnesota briefly answered with a 4-0 spurt, but Maryland’s efficient offense allowed them to extend the lead once again. Jairus Hamilton, Wiggins, Scott, and Smith each scored during the Terps’ 9-0 spurt, which ballooned their lead to 19 with 7:49 remaining in the first half.
As the first half progressed, Maryland’s combination of effective offense plus strong defense persisted as the Terps entered the break with a 16-point lead. The 44 first-half points were the most since Jan. 15 against Wingate, where the Terps registered 47 points.
“Just executing plays, I feel like we got a lot of really good looks,” Wiggins said. “Guys were aggressive, playing confident and when everybody is on their p’s and q’s playing like that we’re a really tough team to play against.”
That momentum continued into the opening stages of the second half, as Maryland found sustained success from behind the arc with Ayala burying a pair of threes in the opening six and a half minutes. That helped Maryland maintain a double-digit advantage. However, Minnesota slowly chipped away at the lead, trimming it to 12 with 12:41 remaining.
Maryland immediately responded with consecutive timely baskets, one from Morsell and a three from Jairus Hamilton, which catapulted the lead to a more comfortable 17-point margin. The Terps advantage remained around 17 points, until Minnesota made one last comeback effort beginning with 5:51 remaining.
For the first time all night, Maryland’s offense struggled to score, while Minnesota’s offense found its stride. The Golden Gophers orchestrated an 11-0 run, as Tre’ Williams, Washburn Jr. and Isaiah Ihnen each drilled an open triple.
However, Wiggins’ aforementioned confident three shattered Minnesota’s comeback hopes and helped propel Maryland to a much-needed win to keep their March Madness aspirations alive.
“I’ve just been trying to harp on getting better everyday, I don’t want none of us looking too far in advance worrying about postseason stuff,” Morsell said.