Maryland men’s basketball looks for hot start, better finish against Purdue

On Saturday, Maryland basketball looks to rebound after back-to-back losses to Iowa and Wisconsin — playing Purdue at the Xfinity Center after a tough road stint. Home is a welcome sight for the Terps who are 10-0 on their home floor this season. Home floor dominance has been a prevalent theme throughout the Big Ten. As of Thursday, all 14 Big Ten teams were a combined 119-19 at home this season.

While the return home bodes well for Maryland, the Terps must execute better both in the opening and closing minutes of the game. At this point Maryland and slow starts have become synonymous. However, the porous late-game execution is a concerning trend that will need to end as the Terps dive further into conference play. 

Maryland’s offense is at its best when it employs a fast-paced style with the guards aggressively attacking the basket. The tone setter is guard Anthony Cowan Jr., the quarterback of the offense. Cowan thrives driving aggressively to the basket looking to score, with the option to pass out when a double team comes. 

The beneficiaries of those plays include athletic wings such as Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell who are at diving towards the basket. Jalen Smith also thrives off Cowan’s play-making ability, taking easy paint opportunities. In all six conference games this season, Smith has scored in double-figures.

To win against Purdue, Maryland needs to find its offensive rhythm early. Increased energy and offensive aggression could lead to both better shot selection and a higher field-goal percentage in the opening five minutes for the Terps. Prior to their last two games, the Terps were shooting 34% from the field in the opening five minutes on the season.

While increased offensive aggressiveness is pivotal in the early stages of the game, improved late-game execution is another area of focus. Critical mistakes at the end of Big Ten matchups have been destructive this season — as Maryland has learned so far in its conference slate. 

Last year, Maryland was one of the youngest teams in the nation, forcing several freshman in to key roles. However, inexperience is no longer an issue as everyone who plays consistent minutes outside of Donta Scott and Chol Marial has at least one season of experience under their belt.

Against Wisconsin, the Terps looked an inexperienced unit, failing to execute an inbounds pass and then communicating poorly on defense — gifting a game-winning three for Brad Davison. Both parts of the playshowed a failure to execute in the closing moments of a game, which cost Maryland from picking up their first true road win of the season. 

The next opportunity for Maryland to jump out to a fast start and execute more effectively down the stretch comes on Saturday against Purdue. The Boilermakers lost several key players from last season, including premier scorer Carsen Edwards. However, the Boilermakers still returned plenty of talent including: sophomore Trevion Williams, junior Nojel Eastern and junior Matt Haarms and could pose a threat.

Despite their 10-7 record, Purdue is fresh off a dominant 71-42 home win over then No. 8 Michigan State. Against the Spartans, Treivon Williams had 16 points to lead all scorers. He is leading the Boilermakers with 11.4 points per game, and is one of five players to average double-figures. Managed by head coach Matt Painter, the Boilermakers have great balance offensively and it’s always a hard-fought physical battle every time both teams’ faceoff.

Improved offensive efficiency early and execution down the stretch will be key for Maryland to return to the win column on Saturday.