Maryland basketball protects homecourt again, defeat Penn State 74-68

Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Hakim Hart and Jahmir Young continue to prove themselves as one of the most devastating backcourt tandems in the conference, as they closed out Penn State 74-68 in dominant fashion on Saturday afternoon in front of a sold-out crowd.

Maryland (17-8, 8-6 in Big Ten) continued to protect its home court, improving to 13-1 in College Park. Penn State (14-11, 6-8 in Big Ten) was just as sweet-shooting as advertised, but guards Hart and Young handled the visitors in the clutch as they combined for 41 points and nine assists.

“Hakim is like the heart of the team,” Jahmir Young said. “He does all the little stuff, especially defensively, so to see him get going like that on offense, really just trying to get him the ball, let him work. He was on tonight.”

The Terps split their two most recent games away from home, earning their first conference road win of the season at Minnesota in a dominant 81-46 trouncing. They followed that up with a loss at Michigan State in East Lansing in a back-and-forth contest. One of Maryland’s biggest issues throughout the season has been their inability to steal road games, but their last two losses between Purdue last month, and the Spartans earlier this week were by three and five points, respectively. They’ve been getting about as close as you can in those hostile environments.

Maryland has made the Xfinity Center into a nearly impenetrable fortress this season. Their dominant home court advantage had helped push them to 12-1 at home entering Saturday afternoon’s matchup, not having lost in College Park since UCLA beat the Terps nearly two months ago. 

The Nittany Lions, for their part, have seen their momentum come to a screeching halt. They’ve lost their last three games, causing them to plummet in the conference standings. They most recently fell to Wisconsin in a five point defeat. Jalen Pickett, Penn State’s lead guard, commands top billing on the scouting report, averaging an impressive 17.3 points, 7 assists and 7.8 rebounds at just 6’4. 

The Terps started the afternoon off doing everything you want out of a team defending home court. They forced early shot clock violations, dove for loose balls and hit threes. They went on an 8-0 run while forcing eight straight misses out of Penn State, some of them right at the rim, clearing the way for a 12-3 score through eight minutes.

Four of Maryland’s starters scored in the first six minutes. The fifth starter, Jahmir Young, the team’s leading scorer, used his opportunities to get himself two early assists.

Another Maryland 7-0 run put the lead at 18-6 through eight minutes. The Terps created fast-break offense by picking off passes in the paint, evidenced in their four steals to that point. Penn State’s Andrew Funk hit a three in response, the team’s third of the game, still without a field goal from within the arc.

The Nittany Lions refused to wilt. They took advantage of a Maryland scoreless streak to drain six straight shots, and a 7-0 run brought them right back into the contest. Dynamic guard Jalen Pickett knew where his open shooters were at all times, dishing to Funk, Myles Dread and Seth Lundy as each hit two shots from three in the half. As a unit, have shot 38.4% from three through thirteen Big Ten matchups, enough to lead the conference. 

Penn State weathered an ugly first half deficit to enter the half trailing 31-28. It had been a block party through 20 minutes, with both teams combining for seven blocked shots and Julian Reese leading all players with two.

The Terps had maintained their lead through a well-balanced offense as Hakim Hart led all scorers with eight points. Young dished out four assists in the period, and Scott and Reese combined for ten boards. 

Pickett, who entered the break with merely four points, scored seven straight two minutes into the new period. The Terps countered with a 9-0 run to take back control, with five coming from Reese as he continued to battle down low.

Young too, got off to a slow start, only getting on the board in the final minute of the first half with a pair of made shots. He hit double figures in scoring five minutes into the new half, further proving his microwave-ability as a scorer. Young kept pace with Pickett, a fellow point guard, as both teams were knotted at 47 midway through the period. No matter how hard a Maryland bucket was to get, Penn State always had their shooting to fall back on.

“They’re unique in that when they go small, they don’t really go small,” Maryland coach Kevin Willard said. “They take all these guys and put four guys around [Pickett] that can shoot, and all of a sudden he’s just as physical and just as good in the post and one on one as anyone in the league. They’re a very good basketball team.”

As the second period morphed into clutch time, Maryland chose an opportune time to hit eight of ten shots leading into the final four minutes, when they led 59-52. It forced back to back misses out of Pickett, the engine of the Penn State offense. When it was the Terps’ turn to score, Hakim Hart finished around the rim through contact, which counted as Dread’s fifth and final foul.

A lengthy five minute Nittany Lions scoring drought sealed their fate as they succumbed to the Maryland defense and crowd down the stretch. Hart took over control in the closing minutes, scoring five points in the final two minutes to go along with a pretty pass to a cutting Ian Martinez for the dunk. He finished with 23 points, the most points he’s scored in a Big Ten matchup and the game-high by a mile.

“This is a very close-knit team for having as many guys that are new and guys that are here and guys who went through stuff last year,” Willard said. “Hak has been really big. You see someone that’s humble, you see someone that works hard every day in practice. You see him play well, guys get excited.”

The Terps held on despite careless turnovers in the final minute, winning 72-68. He and Young each had at least 18 points, and four rebounds, and Young gave out five assists to outduel Jalen Pickett in the matchup of elite Big Ten point guards.

Their next game will be one of the great tests of the Terps’ season, a chance to host No. 1 Purdue in Maryland’s territory on Thursday.