Like it had every other game in its three game win streak, Maryland men’s basketball started flat.
It quickly established itself before the half’s end, but failed to prompt the favorable results it enjoyed to close out the calendar year.
Keegan Murray, the nation’s leading scorer was the deciding factor. The one thing the Hawkeyes failed to control was Murray’s bulldozing effort to 35 points — a performance that allowed Iowa to deal Maryland its second loss in Big Ten play. After a tight 40 minutes of play, the Terps lost, 80-75, in their first contest of 2022 and their first true road test of the season.
“[Iowa’s] a talented basketball team. They got out in transition early,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “No moral victories, but there’s some areas where we feel like we got better. We’ll give ourselves a chance to win any game we play.”
As expected, the Hawkeyes’ Murray was the catalyst for the offense, overwhelming the Terp defense with his versatile, three-level scoring ability and the pace with which he and his offense ran the floor with. It allowed Iowa to shoot up to a strong 24-12 lead, made possible by Murray’s efficient 14 points.
“It’s been a problem in the past that we’re trying to address,” Fatts Russell said of the slow start. “Now if we if we clean that mistake up … it’s a different game.”
When Murray rested, the Terps took advantage and promptly erased the double-digit lead with an array of scores made possible by their defense. Without their offensive engine, the Hawkeyes looked significantly slower and especially suffocated by Maryland’s transition to zone defense.
“They got really comfortable in their rhythm and we just wanted to throw a little change up at them,” Manning said. “I didn’t think I was gonna be able to keep us in [zone] as long as we we stayed in it, but they were missing some shots they probably would like to have back or they probably should have made, but nonetheless it was outcome that we wanted.”
The Terps forced turnovers, bad Iowa shots and raced down the floor, all the way back into the game. Their 11-4 run was enough to get Murray back on the floor and the game, subsequently, back under control.
Maryland used its momentum to escape the first half with a 40-36 lead, the second most points it’s scored all season in the first 20 minutes, but Murray wouldn’t not sit in the final 20. And Maryland would not be afforded the chance again to play on a floor without Murray and an exciting back-and-forth ensued.
Guards Eric Ayala and Russell maintained their winning form. Ayala relentlessly tested his range with several deep threes, draining five total at the end of the contest. Russell proved to have unrivaled speed that seemingly even Iowa’s zone defense — that gave Maryland a host of troubles in the final half — could not stop. The starting backcourt duo combined for 35 points. Qudus Wahab added 12 points of his own, making use of the touches in the paint he earned from his guards finds.
The offense, in spite of sputtering late, maintained a strong 45% average for a large portion of the game. The Terps also finished with a modest 36% mark from three.
Iowa ultimately had the last word in the back-and-forth battle, behind the play of Murray.
Even though Murray’s play wavered in the second half, he hit every crucial shot of Iowa’s second half. He scored the six points that closed the first half gap, hit the three that gave Iowa its first lead of the closing period and drained the two-point dagger that iced the game. The zone defense, Donta Scott and whatever else stood in the way of the lengthy Iowa wing, were all futile in their attempts to stop Murray’s dominant outing and effort to will the Hawkeyes to victory.
“He’s a terrific basketball player,” Manning said of Murray. “He’s the complete total package. And as a basketball fan, I appreciate what he does out there on the court — but we didn’t do enough to slow him down.”