Although the season may not have worked out the way they had hoped, that did not diminish the special Wednesday night for Maryland’s seniors, who, along with their teammates, finished the evening with a, 84-73, victory over Minnesota.
“This night is all about them,” said interim head coach Danny Manning about his seniors. “To be able to finish the final Big Ten game at home with a win is always something special.”
The team is already confirmed to have the worst conference record in any year of the program since moving to the Big Ten. But, Maryland finished strong at home, winning their last three games, including their most recent one where the Terps put up their third-best field goal percentage all season (51.7%).
1. Maryland imposed a strong interior presence on both ends of the floor
Whether it was offensively or defensively, the Terps owned the paint, outscoring Minnesota 46-16.
“[Qudus Wahab] and Julian [Reese] were really efficient, as well, when we got the ball to them,” Manning said. “I think those guys kind of got it going for us because once we established inside presence, they changed their defense, [and] did some different things and started to come in and get drawn into the basketball, and then we could throw it out and hit open shots or getting drives to the basket.”
Part of this was due to Minnesota’s starting center Eric Curry being out with an injury. No one was able to fill in for him, and the banged up roster meant that three Minnesota players had to play all 40 minutes.
“We ended up going smaller a lot earlier than I would have planned if Eric were playing,” Minnesota head coach Ben Johnson said. “[We were] just trying to play in space.”
Although Maryland wreaked havoc in the paint, Minnesota kept it close until the end when threes from Ayala and Hart squashed the Gophers winning hopes. Minnesota got many of its shots off two-point jumpers (in which they outscored Maryland, 14-4) and three-point shots (outscoring Maryland, 33-18). Minnesota’s three-point percentage mirrored its field goal percentage at 39%.
2. The Terps had no answer for Jamison Battle and Payton Willis
It was as if the game was a 5-on-2. Combined, the Jamison Battle and Peyton Willis accounted for 60 points, or 82% of the team’s total.
“Without Eric [Curry] being able to go today, we’ve become really perimeter oriented,” Johnson said. “So I thought [Battle] and Payton [Willis] did a good job of stepping up and making some big time plays for us.”
Before the game, Battle held an average of 16.5 points per game. He had scored more than that each half alone and ended with 39 points on 14-21 shooting — a career-high mark in points.
“He was on fire,” said Fatts Russell about the star forward. “He was making some tough shots, overhand, over two people. That is all credit to him.”
Battle was draining shots from all parts of the half court. No defense seemed to be working.
“It’s okay to say, ‘Good defense, better offense,’” Manning said. “That’s what happens. You just want to make sure you continue to [make them] take contested shots.”
Willis was an excellent second option for Minnesota with his 21 points, on an efficient 7-14 shooting.
“Hats off to these guys, to be able to come into the best league in the country and to be able to fight and scrap like they do, you know, to play for each other like they do,” Johnson said.
3. Victory came from total team effort
As the antithesis to Minnesota, Maryland distributed the ball well and often. Six players ended the game with nine or more points.
“That’s how we have to play,” Manning said. “We have to have great balance. We have to share the basketball.”
Not a single player took more than 13 shots and no one scored over 20 points, despite this being the fifth-highest scoring game all year for the Terps.
“It’s a fun way to coach as a staff, because guys know that when the ball moves, we want you to be aggressive in your opportunities,” Manning said.
The 2021-22 season might be seen as a disappointment on most accounts. Yet, during the final home game of the season the Terps left their fans with a display of teamwork symbolic of their close bond.
The season, however, is not over yet. With the Big Ten Tournament approaching, Maryland hopes to continue to play spoiler as the team continues to ride off their high chemistry.
“I feel like we’re all in a rhythm right now,” said Russell. “That was our goal going into the Big Ten Tournament … I feel like we’re feeling pretty good right now. It’s been a collective effort tonight. It was pretty good.”