Despite defeating Illinois 59-58 Saturday, Maryland basketball was unhappy with their performance, citing a lack of energy and poor execution. Tuesday night in State College, Maryland will look to play with increased energy in an arena where they’ve historically struggled.
Last season at Penn State, the Nittany Lions dominated Maryland in a 78-61 victory. They jumped out to a 42-20 halftime lead, led by forward Lamar Stephens who finished with 24 points.
“Penn State is really good — they’re really good in that building,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Quite frankly they were just better than us in that building last year.”
This season, the Nittany Lions (7-2) are off to a strong start once again, led by Stephens who is averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game. Meanwhile, center Mike Watkins serves as the anchor down low averaging nearly a double-double. Watkins is one of the best low-post defenders in the conference and will pose a challenge for the Maryland bigs.
Penn State leads the conference in both steals and blocks per game. While Watkins provides a strong presence down low, guard Jamari Wheeler is a strong perimeter defender, leading the conference at 2.2 steals per game. Wheeler has consistently shown the ability to read the opponent’s eyes and get into passing lanes. Taking care of the ball is an area where Maryland has improved this season, leading the conference in turnover margin.
Avoiding another slow start will be key for Maryland, and the best way to do that will be coming out with increased energy. As the No. 4 team in the nation, the Terps know they will receive everyone’s best shot. As a result, the Terps know they need to start faster and execute coach Turgeon’s game plan early.
“We got to come out ready, last year they hit us in our mouth first and we didn’t respond,” Darryl Morsell said. “We can’t allow that to happen when we go there.”
Improved execution and a faster start will be vital for Maryland to avoid the upset, with tip-off slated for 7 p.m. on ESPN 2.