The story of the season has revolved around Maryland’s persistent struggles down low. As one of the smallest teams in the league and one of the only teams in the conference lacking any true low post threat, Maryland (9-8, 3-7 B1G) truly is in a unique position.
However, front court talents like Galin Smith and Donta Scott have stepped up at various points of the season. Both have proved to be readily capable of mitigating the Terps low post woes, but the true heroes of this season come in guard form.
Amidst all of the doubt, the hype and everything in between, Maryland’s guards have been collectively producing at a high level. And while guard play hasn’t exactly been Maryland’s saving grace this season, the back court has kept the Terps afloat in the biggest contests of the year.
“I still think there’s a ton of fight in us and good days ahead for Maryland basketball,” head coach Mark Turgeon said.
It was there for Maryland when they needed a late game push past then No. 6 Wisconsin, where Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins combined for 32. It was available late in the game again at then No. 12 Illinois when Darryl Morsell’s best Rip Hamilton impersonation translated to 15 second half points and a career high scoring performance. Hakim Hart’s go-ahead three in the closing minute helped wrap things up in Champaign too.
Maryland’s back court was also productive the entire afternoon at then No. 17 Minnesota, playing a pestering brand of defense on Marcus Carr as Ayala went on to score 21 at the Barn.
Wiggins, Ayala, Morsell and Hart have been playing their roles masterfully, yet their efforts have largely taken a back seat in a season spoiled by injury, incredibly talented opponents and aforementioned front court struggles.
So, as the Terps gear up for their second bout against No. 24 Purdue (12-4, 7-4 B1G), a team that has leaned on its own guard talent as of late, their back court will need to continue to produce, against the Boilermakers and for the rest of the season.
Aside from their star big, Trevion Williams, the Boilermakers roster includes an improved Brandon Newman, who’s coming off a career-high 29 points against Minnesota in a victory.
Since the two sides last met on Christmas, Newman has won the Big Ten Freshman of the week award twice. And the freshman has solidified his scoring role on an already deep team, providing another element to the multi-faceted Boilermakers attack.
“They’re hard to guard,” Turgeon said. “They got a great low post game. They got really good shooters, they challenge you.”
With Sasha Stefanovic out due to COVID complications and with Williams slightly out of form, averaging 34% from the field in his past two contests, it’s possible Newman will be taking on a larger role and will be looking to score as he did his last time out.
“[Newman]’s not gonna sneak up on us [on Tuesday],” Turgeon said “He still might play well and score a lot of points but it’ll be because he earned it. Our guys will be locked in to guard him.”
Of course, it’ll be Maryland’s back court, particularly Morsell, ready to make everything hard for Newman and the rest of his backcourt teammates — most notably Jaden Ivey and Eric Hunter Jr.
Morsell has seemed poised all season to take on the best guard talent the Big Ten has to offer, so it’s unlikely his fervor for battling big time players will falter against the freshman.
But if it does, he’ll have a perfectly capable back court that has his back, and as they have all year, there’s a good chance they’ll show up — in one way or another.
Morsell said it best after the teams 3rd Big Ten win of the season: “this team full of dogs.” And Maryland’s dogs aren’t the biggest on the court, but they seem keen on bringing a good fight every now and then.
Tip-off is at 6:30 pm and the game will air on BTN.