Donta Scott meandered in the lane searching for space as he pivoted right and left unable to create enough separation. However, with the shot clock winding down, Scott faded towards his left side and lofted a jump hook off the glass, giving the Terps a much-needed bucket with 6:06 remaining.
The ensuing possession, Scott drew a double-team, picked his head up and alertly fed Hakim Hart who confidently drilled a three from straight-on, extending Maryland’s lead to 12 with 5:13 remaining.
“He’s physically tougher, he’s mentally tougher,” head coach Mark Turgeon said of Hart. “Players love him and respect him. I started playing him at point guard and he’s been great with it.”
Both of those timely buckets were crucial in helping Maryland (15-10, 9-9 B1G) stave off Michigan State’s (13-10, 7-10 B1G) comeback bid in the 73-55 win.
They were also indicative of both player’s continued growth and development during their second seasons in College Park.
While Scott only finished with seven points, his timely baskets and persistent effort on the glass finishing with a team-high eight rebounds and five assists were vital in the Terps victory.
“I thought where he was the best was boxing out,” Turgeon said of Scott. “He was physical and he had to be physical for us.”
Eric Ayala led the team with 22 points, attacking the basket with reckless abandon as Aaron Wiggins, Darryl Morsell and Hart also finished in double figures. Morsell showed no signs of rust after barely practicing all week, due to a lingering shoulder issue.
“Eric Ayala, it was his best all-around game since he’s been here,” Turgeon said. “He guarded, he boxed out. He ran the team, he made free throws.”
The Terps also were 23-24 from the free-throw line, an area where they’ve searched for improvement all season.
Protecting the ball was also an essential aspect of the win, as the Terps finished with just seven turnovers preventing the long and athletic Spartans from pushing the pace and getting out into transition.
Maryland couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game, orchestrating an 11-0 run in the opening four minutes, catalyzed by a three-point shooting barrage and suffocating defense. Michigan State missed its first six shots of the game, five of which came from behind the arc.
“It was good to get off to a good start, I think it set the tone for the game,” Morsell said. “I knew we had to come out with energy, we had to hit them first. If you let [Michigan State] hit you first, it could be a long game.”
Like in many of its recent contests, Maryland’s defensive rotations were impeccably timed leading to contested shot opportunities from the Spartans. As Michigan State’s offense found a little bit of a rhythm, Maryland once again utilized the three-point shot to create some distance.
Threes from Ayala and Jairus Hamilton helped to keep the Spartans at a distance as the first-half progressed, including Hamilton’s second three, which extended Maryland’s lead to 31-19 with 5:15 remaining.
Michigan State continued to chip away, as Joshua Langford drilled a three that trimmed Maryland’s lead to eight with 44 seconds left in the first half. Langford’s three was one of only four the Spartans made in the first half, as they struggled mightily from deep.
Out of a timeout, Michigan State’s entire starting unit slapped the floor in unison. However, that didn’t dissuade the Terps as Ayala drove hard to the basket for a tough contested finish, giving the Terps a 10-point advantage at the break.
To start the second-half, Maryland made Michigan State pay for its over-aggressiveness, drawing six fouls in the opening five minutes. Michigan State also transitioned its offensive attack, playing through Malik Hall in the post as opposed to settling for perimeter jumpers.
Hall’s success down low plus a Joey Hauser three from the corner trimmed Maryland’s lead to six with 10:30 remaining as the Spartans bench erupted with new life.
Sensing that Michigan State was building momentum, Hart and Wiggins converted back-to-back tough baskets. Both baskets extended the lead to nine and were prime examples of the Terps’ ability to make tough shots in clutch moments.
“We’re playing with confidence, ” Morsell said. “Even when teams make runs we stay confident because we know what we’re capable of.”
Just when both teams offense’s seemed to stall with a near two-minute scoring drought, the back-to-back baskets from Hart and Scott helped Maryland return its lead to double-digits with less than six minutes remaining.
As time continued to dwindle, the Terps continued to deliver timely baskets as Scott drilled his only three of the game on a cross-court feed from Hart. After that, Maryland continued to surge forward, creating even more distance as Michigan State attempted the comeback.
Wiggins capped off the impressive victory with just over a minute remaining as he soared for an emphatic 360 jam that sent the bench into a frenzy.
Sunday’s victory marked another indication of the Terps’ continued growth and evolution on both ends of the floor, playing pestering defense complemented by efficient offense.
“I feel like our confidence level is at an all-time high right now and we just gotta keep it that way,” Hart added.