No. 6 Maryland men’s basketball took care of business in their matchup of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday night, discarding No. 14 Minnesota in a team-oriented 70-54 win. In a total reversal from the Terps’ tragic blown lead against Penn State last week, multiple players stepped up to score to start their postseason on the right foot.
Minnesota was about the best matchup Maryland could have hoped for; not only were they the bottom-ranked team in the conference, but they also had the honored distinction of being the lone squad the Terps could handle away from College Park. In toppling the Gophers, the Terps, who’ve received criticsmfor their issues on the road (4-10 away from Xfinity Center this season, 1-9 in Big Ten road games), seized their first away win since Feb. 4, when they last beat Minnesota.
While experts have clamored on about those road struggles, perhaps it was their neutral site history people should have paid attention to. In an admittedly small sample size, the Terps now stand at 3-1 when neither team holds a distinct crowd advantage.
Maryland coach Kevin Willard pointed out before the game that the Terpshad chances to steal games in hostile arenas. No loss stands more agonizing than their loss against the Nittany Lions last Sunday in an afternoon where they blew a 15-point lead and relented a game-winning second-chance putback with 0.4 seconds remaining to lose, 64-65.
The second round of the conference tourney functioned as the Terps’ playoff debut, with the top 10 seeds awarded a first-round bye. Minnesota and No. 11 Nebraska squared off the day before, with the Gophers prevailing to set up round three between the two schools.
The Terps wasted no time demonstrating that they’d put the Penn State loss in the rearview mirror, going on an early 8-0 run thanks entirely to Donta Scott and Hakim Hart. It was refreshing seeing those two step up, as they’d hung Jahmir Young out to dry on Sunday, with Young scoring 26 in the loss while Scott and Hart combined for four points.
This was only the beginning of a hyper-effective outing for Scott, who finished the game with 20 points. 16 of Scott’s 20 arrived in the first half, and his four first-half threes were huge in ensuring that the Gophers never got too close.
Scott stepping up his production in a pinch was also extra timely since, in a reversal of fortunes, Young struggled mightily to get the ball through the hoop. He entered the half with a single point and finished with 15 points, which looks fine enough until you see he shot 3-13 from the field and survived off of shooting 9-11 from the free throw line.
Even with their All-Big Ten star toiling away trying to score, Young’s two-man game with Reese was still intact. Reese finished with 10 points and eight rebounds and impressively captained the Maryland defense, shutting down guards when they dragged him out to the perimeter while maintaining his brick wall status in the paint.
Hart was also notably effective defensively, helping ensureno opposing starter scored more than seven points. Don Carey also contributed mightily, drawing a charge to compliment his 11 points on efficient shooting.
“I just wanted these guys to be a little loose coming into this week, going into next week,” Willard said. “We have four or five guys that are never going to play college basketball again. I want them to be able to sit back and realize this is a lot of fun this time of year. This is what we work for.”
The one bind Maryland got into that they may have to look out for in the future was foul trouble, specifically for its rotation of bigs. Reese and Patrick Emilien both finished with four fouls, with many of those coming in the first half, and when Willard inserted fresh blood in Caelum Swanton-Rodger to give those two a rest, he too somehow drew three fouls in as many minutes. Maryland survived, thanks largely to the lead they built up in the first 20 minutes, but this certainly made everyone’s lives no easier.
This is something they’ll have to watch out for today versus No. 4 Indiana, recipients of a double-bye due to its top-four seed. The Hoosiers are a team headlined by their star in the frontcourt, Trayce Jackson-Davis. Maryland triumphed 66-55 in the one time these two teams faced off on Jan. 31, but the forward still finished with 18 points and 20 rebounds.
Jalen Hood-Schifino was held in check that night, scoring three points on 1/14 shooting. For the season he’s averaged 13.4 points per game and has largely acted as the team’s second option, so the Terps will likely try to key in on him again.
Indiana, winners of 12 conference games and the most efficient team in the Big Ten from the field (48.9%), don’t hold any advantages the Terps can’t overcome. With just one loss separating these two from identical records, Maryland has a real chance to take down the Hoosiers and move on to face the winner between Northwestern and Penn State on Saturday, two more teams the Terps beat at home. The Big Ten is as congested a conference as any in the country, and Maryland has as good of a chance at coming out on top as anyone.