Swarming defense, Efficient offense and Galin Smith: Three takeaways from Maryland’s major victory over Minnesota

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Sunday’s contest was evidence that Maryland (11-10, 5-9 B1G) brings out the worst of Minnesota (13-8, 6-8 B1G) while simultaneously displaying the best version of themselves. 

After nearly a week of rest, everything was clicking for the Terps on both sides of the ball as they dismantled the Gophers and finalized a season sweep. In a must win game, Maryland’s defense held Marcus Carr and Liam Robbins to a combined 11 points enroute to a 72-59 victory over Minnesota.  

“I hope [this game] gives them confidence,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We’ve got to lock in defensively and keep sharing the ball. The guys see the light at the end of the tunnel, they know it’s coming to an end soon, so we gotta make haste.” 

Here are my three takeaways from Maryland’s key win against Minnesota.

A Swarming Defense 

Much like their last meeting, Maryland suffocated Minnesota’s offense for a significant portion of the game. And in a manner that was also identical to their first meeting in January, Terps silenced the Gophers best athletes with a hounding brand of 3-2 zone defense. 

Robbins regularly faced double teams in the post and Carr was smothered and often denied possession by Maryland’s guards, forcing Minnesota’s role players to make an impact in their place. Two early fouls by Robbins sent the big man to the bench early and left much of the scoring responsibilities to Carr who managed to produce a mere seven points in the first half. 

“We was flying around on defense,” guard Darryl Morsell said. “It wasn’t just me, it was a whole team effort tonight to make it difficult for [Carr] as well as their team.”

Maryland’s first half defense allowed just a 29% mark on the floor and a 21% average from range. With Robbins in foul trouble and Carr a non-factor, the second half should have prompted the same results if the Terps committed to what granted them success in the opening period. 

But when they did and the offense failed to convert for nearly four minutes in over five possessions, Maryland’s lead was reduced to just six points with three minutes to go. And in typical Maryland fashion, its defense led the teams final push to close things out. 

After Isaiah Ihnen drained his triple that cut Maryland’s lead to just six, the Terps went on a unified defensive run that left Minnesota scoreless for the rest of the contest. Regardless of whether it was a good look or a desperation heave, Maryland was there to contest every shot. In one sequence, the Terps forced two straight misses from deep in one possession. A contested corner three by Jamal Mashburn Jr. followed by a contested side-step three from Carr, began a stretch that would see the Terps contest five more field goal attempts to keep Minnesota under 60 points for the game. 

Galin Smith’s best game of the season

Throughout the season, Turgeon along with several other Terps took notice of Galin Smith’s stoicism and praised his efforts in games and in practice. The circumstances of this year’s Big Ten conference has left Smith struggling against some of the best frontcourts college basketball has to offer. But against a frigid Minnesota team, his efforts this season finally materialized into his best performance of the year. 

“[Galin Smith] keeps getting more comfortable, we keep getting more comfortable with him, and you’re seeing growth,” Turgeon said. “I was really happy for Galin.”

Smith ended up posting 10 points along with five boards and four assists, doing the bulk of his damage in the first half. His play in this game was probably best characterized by a block to dunk sequence — akin to the play of his predecessor, Jalen Smith. 

In an easy-to-miss, 10 second play, Smith swatted an attempted Mashburn layup, scampered back to the other end of the floor and rolled to the rim with no resistance after setting a quick screen for Eric Ayala who spotted him in the paint for a wide open slam. 

Of course, the offensive production doesn’t end there. Of Smith’s aforementioned four assists, his most notable dishes came with his back to the basket. One of which came off a double team where he found an open Wiggins for a corner three, bolstering Maryland’s first double digit lead. Another came in similar fashion, only this time it was Ayala in the corner open for three.

“You could tell he was just locked in,” Wiggins said. “He was ready to make plays for our team to win. He was able to make the right plays.” 

In the final stretch of Maryland’s schedule, Smith’s high-level production will certainly help the Terps make a solid case to enter the NCAA tournament. However, as with most issues that hamper this team, it all comes down to consistency.   

Truly scoring by committee 

Outside of a few tune-up games, almost every win this season featured a singular standout offensive output from either Wiggins, Donta Scott or Ayala. But all three showed out Sunday night — and even Morsell joined in on the fun. 

Each displayed their best qualities on offense and helped get Maryland off to an efficient shooting night, making their domination of Minnesota look easy. 

“When everybody’s on their P’s and Q’s and playing like that, we’re a really tough team to play against,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins’ aggressiveness from the team’s last contest carried over into another team-high scoring performance that translated to one of his better three-point shooting games of the year with three triples.

Ayala converted four of his five threes on his way to score 12 points on the night. Morsell, without his mask for the first time since 2020, produced one of his best offensive outings with 13 points on nothing but layups and a pair of turnaround jumpers. 

Scott’s eight points weren’t as impressive as his teammates on paper, but he looked a lot more comfortable after his worst outing of the season against Ohio State. The sophomore sought out much better shooting looks and grabbed 11 rebounds. 

Sunday’s contest was more proof that the pieces are there; it’s simply a matter of keeping things together.