Maryland men’s basketball was in desperate need of a conference win, and it was willing to fight tooth and nail to get it.
Maryland’s first 2021-22 Big Ten win was a memorable double-overtime affair which included a bevy of mishaps at the end of regulation, a Fatts Russell half court buzzer beater that barely rimmed out and a career performance by Eric Ayala.
On top of the theatrics of the game, this served as a measure of improvement for interim head coach Danny Manning, whose first game as Maryland’s interim head coach was also against Northwestern just a month ago. One month later, this game could show just how far the team has come with new leadership.
The Terps got the, 94-87, win and a better understanding of who they are as a team, but it wasn’t perfect.
1. Maryland failed to put it away early
They ended up winning, but it took double overtime to do so. And with how the final seconds of regulation transpired, Maryland should not have even been in that position.
The Terps had possession of the ball with 18 seconds left in the game while up by six. The game was seemingly over at this point.
Instead, Donta Scott crumbled, and he took the team down with him.
Struggles with inbounding the ball led to a Scott travel, giving Northwestern the ball.
Then, Donta Scott and Russell collided on the inbound, allowing for a wide open Northwestern three-pointer.
On the next Maryland inbound, Scott got called for a flagrant foul after inexplicably hitting Northwestern forward Robbie Beran in the neck. Northwestern hit its two technical free throws and got possession of the ball while only down by one.
To cap off the set of bad plays, Scott allowed Northwestern’s Pete Nance to pass him, and fouled out of the game to force a Nance miss at the rim — giving the Wildcats’ leading scorer a chance to win with two made free throws.
However, Nance made just his first.
Maryland was one Nance free throw away from losing the game in improbable fashion. It was almost a familiar outcome for this team. They can get close, but those final minutes seem to be too much for the squad to handle.
Maryland has had the lead in the second half of every Big Ten game this season. This was the first time they ended up winning, and yet they still almost squandered it.
2, Maryland can still be dangerous if Fatts Russell can play like he did in overtime
This game served as a prime example of the positive effect Russell can have when he’s rolling on all cylinders. The problem was that this mostly only came out in overtime.
Russell played 31 minutes in regulation, scoring 10 points on 3-9 shooting. In the 10 minutes he played in overtime, he scored 13 points on 3-5 shooting, single-handedly outscoring Northwestern during the second overtime.
“Fatts was big time,” said guard Eric Ayala after the game. “It was self-explanatory. He did his thing tonight.”
Russell piggy-backed off the impressive performance of Ayala, who put up a career-high in points (26) while also collecting his first double-double. In overtime, Northwestern made adjustments to restrict Ayala’s access offensively.
“They were kind of denying [Ayala] all over the place,” Russell said. “When you deny one player, it’s kind of like four-on-four. So, I just felt like I needed to be aggressive for the team.”
3. Danny Manning possesses the leadership to keep Maryland together
The 2021-22 season has been nothing short of chaotic for Maryland. Mark Turgeon left in early December, and minutes before this game started, assistant coach Bruce Shingler was suspended 30 days for violation of his employment agreement.
Through all the curveballs and their tough conference schedule, Maryland has either won or remained competitive in every game since Manning took over.
Against Northwestern, Maryland had squandered their second half lead in dramatic fashion. It would have to fight for their first conference win in overtime.
And despite the turn for the worse, the team remained in control.
“We talked about this before the game, it wasn’t during the game, it was, ‘think next play,’” Manning said. “Good, bad, indifferent, whatever happens, we move on to the next play.”