Relentless first half offense, suffocating second half defense push Maryland basketball to decisive victory

So far this season, slow starts have bogged down Maryland basketball (14-4, 4-3 B1G), forcing it to play catch up. However, Saturday afternoon was a complete flip of the script, as the Terps’ offense was alive early. It was a shift in the usual narrative for the Terps who have previously been flummoxed by slow starts having to use their defense as a catalyst for the comeback.

Today, the Terps used their defense — albeit in a different context. Visitors Purdue (10-8, 3-4 BIG) scored only three points down the stretch, and didn’t convert a field goal in the final six minutes. Center Jalen Smith was instrumental on both ends throughout, with a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. His low-post defense was vital in the closing minutes, contesting several opportunities from sophomore Trevion Williams.

Maryland jumped out to a commanding 20-4 lead after less than eight minutes, due in large part to scorching perimeter shooting. The fast start and double-digit deficit proved too much for the Boilermakers to overcome, as Maryland held on for a 57-50 win. 

Knocking down five of their first seven shots from behind the arc, Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins and Donta Scott all found their perimeter shooting touch early on. Scott’s success offensively early on set up a career-high 13-point performance from the freshman, who served as an ideal complement down low to Jalen Smith. 

While Maryland’s offense found success from the perimeter early on, its defense also did its part, rotating well and communicating effectively forcing the Boilermakers into tough opportunities. Anthony Cowan Jr. got into an early groove, facilitating and setting up his teammate’s perimeter opportunities.

Leading 11-2, and dribbling down the right side, Cowan displayed impeccable vision and precision. He fired a cross-court pass over the outstretched arms of 7-foot-3 center Matt Haarms, right to Wiggins for a wide-open triple. That pass highlighted an impressive passing display from the senior guard who finished with a team-high seven assists. 

As the first half progressed, guard Nojel Eastern found his scoring touch, with eight consecutive points for the Boilermakers, bringing the score to 28-14. However, Jalen Smith maintained Maryland’s momentum with an outstanding one-handed offensive rebound and finish, extending the lead to 16 once again. The Terps maintained that 16-point advantage entering the half and appeared to be in firm control.

However, Purdue didn’t go down without a fight. Despite a hefty deficit, the Boilermakers came out of the gates firing in the second half. After only scoring 20 points the whole first half, Purdue found their offensive rhythm in the opening six minutes of the second half. The Boilermakers scored 13 quick points to cut the deficit to single-digits for the first time since the 14:56 mark of the first half.

Continuing his impressive game, Eastern executed a beautiful spin move around Wiggins for a crafty finish to cut Maryland’s lead to 47-40. Sensing the Boilermakers momentum, head coach Mark Turgeon called a timeout to halt the run. 

Out of the timeout, Wiggins responded, cutting backdoor to the basket, picking up a feed from Eric Ayala, and soaring for a dunk. The finish re-energized the Xfinity Center crowd and provided Maryland with a much-needed basket.

Just when it seemed Maryland had regained control by holding a 10-point lead with 6:41 remaining, Purdue battled back. Isaiah Thompson knocked down a deep triple with 6:01 remaining to trim the deficit to 52-47. However, that marked the Boilermakers last field goal of the game.

Down the stretch, Sasha Stefanovic brought the Boilermakers back to within 53-50 knocking down three free throws after he was fouled on a perimeter jumper. In need of a basket to stretch the lead, Jalen Smith finished off an emphatic jam to put Maryland back on top by five with 2:07 remaining. The emphatic stuff was set up by an accurate pass from Wiggins, who made the Boilermakers pay after Stefanovic fell and was unable to recover.

Smith’s dunk provided Maryland with the bucket it needed, while a string of the Terps’ strongest defensive possessions put the finishing touches on a hard-fought victory. 

Back in the win column, and now 11-0 at home, Maryland will look to use a similar formula on the road for back-to-back matchups with Northwestern and Indiana.

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