The start was encouraging. The seats of Xfinity Center were more full than they had been in weeks past. Fans were exceptionally loud and clad in white shirts as a part of the ‘white-out’ themed afternoon, hoping to see the version of Maryland men’s basketball they had been longing for all season — the version that won two straight competitive Big Ten games.
Momentarily, the anticipation was rewarded with an impressive 8-0 start. Eric Ayala put the first points on the board with a step-back three, Donta Scott scored his own triple soon after and Qudus Wahab finished at the rim to complete the potential tone-setting run.
Encouraging, but far from everlasting.
The game played out with Maryland falling well short of expectations, once again. And in the presence of a competitive, hungry Indiana (15-5, 6-5 B1G) team, Maryland men’s basketball (11-10, 3-7 B1G) was defeated handily, 68-55. Maryland’s offense barely mustered 50 points behind six points from Ayala and 12 points on 12 shots from Fatts Russell.
“All in all, we got some quality looks that didn’t fall, you have to credit their defense,” interim head coach Danny Manning said.
It was instead Indiana who set the tone with a 17-3 run in response. And suddenly, the threes weren’t falling for Maryland. The zone defense Indiana employed startled the Terps’ offense and forced them to settle contested shots in late shot-clock situations. And as they subsequently failed to get any calls, the Terps’ shot percentage dropped to an unpleasant 30%.
“They were pressing everybody,” Hakim Hart said. “[They were] making sure it was not easy for us.”
The crowd grew impatient and its energy tapered off and the lack of depth offered few alternatives for Maryland as the starters grew increasingly exhausted. Brief reprieve came in a 15-6 climb-back run that erased a two possession deficit — with Ayala burying his second and final three from range to shortly retake the lead — but Indiana reasserted itself in the closing minutes of the half.
In a 10-0 run to close the period, Trayce Jackson-Davis dropped six points in the paint, where his team dominated the entire afternoon. Jackson-Davis even ended the period with a buzzer-beating tomahawk slam that especially quieted the crowd entering halftime as Indiana led, 33-26.
The Hoosiers finished with 36 paint points to Maryland’s 20. At nearly every attack toward the rim, whether it was Julian Reese or Wahab on the block or Russell and Ayala driving to the cup, the Terps were denied by an outstretched Hoosier hand. Race Jackson took the bulk of the visitors’ points under the basket and led all scorers with 18 points, but Jackson-Davis wasn’t too far behind with 17 of his own. The two combined for 35 points.
“I felt like they clogged the paint pretty well. We didn’t get a lot of paint drives, going to the paint with our guards,” Xavier Green said. “We weren’t hitting shots this game so that was big for us.”
As the second quarter ensued and with the Hoosiers dominance well established, Indiana continued to play the same defense that granted its prior success on runs and Maryland’s shots fell at an even lower rate, and it spent much of the second half shooting below 30%. Before the closing half reached its final third, droves of fans exited the stadium as the Hoosiers worked to a cozy double-digit lead that, at one point, reached 18 points.
“Today offensively, was not a good game for a lot of guys,” Manning said. “And when that happens we have to do a lot better defensively.”
The players who started the game promisingly, Ayala, Scott, Wahab and even Russell, combined for 37 points on 25% shooting to finish the contest. The bench also finished with just three points — just one point came in the second half. Hart, as is often the case in poor Maryland showings, offered one of the few bright spots of the contest, notching 11 of his team-high 15 points in the closing half.
After being throttled at home in front of very eager, optimistic fans, the Terps have little time to dwell on their shortcomings on Saturday as even more talented squads await in the coming weeks. The first of which is Michigan State which will be visiting on Tuesday.
“We got a top ten team coming in on Tuesday,” Manning said. “We gotta have a short memory.”