The pageantry of the Terps’ Monday night ‘red-out’ matchup held weight. It gave Maryland men’s basketball a boisterous crowd to play for.
When the game reached its most critical juncture, the presence of the fans mattered. And when Maryland’s devotees filled Xfinity Center with unrelenting energy, Maryland rewarded them with its first home win of the month to go along with the free red shirts on their backs.
The play wasn’t pretty or ideal, but the Terps averted a deeper descent into an under .500 hole and defeated Penn State, 67-61, with the help of fans and improved second half play.
“Extremely happy for our guys to have two straight wins,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “Proud of the way our guys responded. Really enjoyed the energy we were feeding off of the student section in the red t-shirts that was big for us.”
Here are some takeaways from the win.
Early interior offense turns into a more balanced scoring effort
Maryland got inside often and early. It started with Qudus Wahab’s seven points in the opening eight minutes of stoppage-free basketball. It continued with Donta Scott’s variety of drives to the rim. With passes by Fatts Russell, and an energetic technique in the paint, Wahab heated up fairly quickly and finished efficiently with jump hooks and one putback slam — often in the face of a heavyset center, John Harrar, who was regularly standing in his presence.
Scott drained a floater and later showcased his footwork to add to the array of pain finishes and granted Maryland a multiple possession lead it held for the majority of the half. But the one-dimensional paint approach failed to last. Maryland could not get to the line and struggled to get any perimeter actions to turn into threes, allowing the Nittany Lions to generate a crucial run to close the gap and tie the game at 28 at the halftime break. Maryland dominated the paint offensively but hit 3-10 three-pointers and made it to the charity stripe just once.
Wahab finished with seven points and Scott went on to end the game with 12 points without any threes.
The response out of the break was prompt and proper. Maryland continued to attack the basket, but with its guards. Russell and Eric Ayala began draining threes — once on back-to-back possessions — after accomplishing little in the first half. The attacks to the basket also granted Maryland much needed free throws to widen the gap between the two sides again. And the 18 free-throw opportunities made a massive difference in the final half push.
With Eric Ayala still laboring with a wrist injury on his dominant hand, Fatts Russell and his backcourt company were tasked with, once again, a bulk of tone-setting responsibilities.
Though Russell did often initiate offense and managed to be a pestering force on the defensive end, he failed to fill up the scoring column in the first half.
“I knew I had to be aggressive,” Russell said. “I felt like we were down a little bit. And we felt like we should have been up more.”
But immediately out of the halftime break, Russell began calling his own number and delivering in a way he didn’t in the first 20 minutes of competition. The first seven points of the second half were all Russell buckets. The last eight points to ice the contest were all Russell free-throw attempts. After Russell hit a crafty and-one layup to complete his seven-point effort, Ayala joined the action with a confidence burgeoning three that gave Maryland a multiple possession lead it held until the end of the game.
“I definitely feel good. My hand isn’t bothering me as much,” Ayala said. “That’s kinda what I do.”
Russell and Ayala combined for 18 of Maryland’s initial 20 points in the final half. Guards accounted for 35 of Maryland’s 39 second half points after scoring just eight in the first. Russell also ended with a game-high 18 points and Ayala dropped 13 points in his 17 minutes off the bench.
Defense creates offense
Another product of the halftime energy flip was the points off of turnovers. Though a majority of them came in the second half, the frantic defensive effort began with Ian Martinez in the waning seconds of the first half.
“If you get a steal, if you get a stop, if you get a deflection and get out in transition you’re in open court, and a lot of good things can happen,” Manning said.
Just before time expired, Martinez took advantage of a coasting Penn State offense and stripped a Nittany Lion guard and took the ball all the way to the basket in traffic. His makeshift buzzer-beater tied the game before halftime and brought new life to the crowd and the Terps unit. The steal also marked the second of Martinez’ four of the night.
There was a similar feeling evoked from the crowd when Ayala snagged his only steal of the night during a second half run and subsequently buried a fastbreak three. After Hakim Hart read the Penn State offense to earn a fastbreak bucket of his own, the crowd, Maryland bench and Hart were in unison, screaming to at their loudest, enjoying a commanding, 54-42, lead.
After notching just five points off of turnovers in the first half, Maryland totaled 13 in the final 20 minutes.
Though the Terps did falter late and fell victim to some stagnant offense, the crowd came to lift Maryland back up when it got tight. Russell nearly got another fastbreak bucket with 22 seconds on the clock after his second steal of the game, but he instead had to settle with the game closing free-throws and some ear-piercing cheers to go along with the win.