Maryland men’s basketball continues home dominance, handles Wisconsin

Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland men’s basketball is back at home and started the homestand by turning in arguably its best offensive performance of the season against Wisconsin on Wednesday night in a 73-55 victory.

Black-out night saw a number of big performances to bury the Badgers. Jahmir Young poured in yet another 20-piece, scoring 22 points with 8 rebounds and 5 assists, but it was Hakim Hart who stole the show with eight assists on increasingly difficult passes. They rise to 13-7 (4-5 in Big Ten), and continue to bolster their now 10-1 home record thanks also to their increasingly infamous press defense.

“Pressing is a long-term game,” said coach Kevin Willard. They got off to a quick start, beat our press a few times, got some open threes, but really it kind of worked in our favor because it wasn’t their tempo. Especially if you’re a team like Wisconsin, it doesn’t let you run your offense.”

The Terps touched back down in College Park, coming off the heels of their tightest loss of the 2023 campaign in a 58-55 defeat to No. 1 Purdue. Despite shooting a ghastly 3-21 from three-point range, sophomore big man Julian Reese captained an otherwise uncomfortable Maryland offense with 19 points on 8-11 shooting in the face of National Player of the Year favorite Zach Edey.

The visiting team (12-7, 4-5 in Big Ten) arrived with the intention of shaking off a three-point loss of their own, with their most recent missed opportunity coming at the hands of Northwestern in a 66-63 contest. The Badgers and Terps alike have struggled as of late, with Wisconsin losing four of their last five, including three-straight earlier this month, and Maryland slipping in four of its last six.

Wisconsin’s Max Klesmit was ruled out prior to tipoff, clearing the way for Connor Essegian at the vacant guard spot. Alongside Chucky Hepburn, he gave the Badgers a second shooter in the starting lineup averaging at least 43% from three on at least four attempts a game. The team averages the second most made threes a game in the Big Ten with 8.6, which they’ve shot at a 36% clip.

Both teams started the game trading blows, with pace of play looking like night and day compared to the last time these teams matched up on December 6. The final score of that matchup was 64-59, but on this day, both teams had 14 points on 70% shooting through six minutes.

Senior guard Jahmir Young collected seven quick points in this short span to go along with an assist, with his Wednesday night highlight reel already including a ferocious dunk after splitting the defense.

Fellow senior Patrick Emilien experienced his first extended minutes since Ohio State on Jan. 8. Ankle problems kept him out of the two games that followed, and Willard took him for a spin last game against Purdue with five limited minutes to get him back into rhythm. 

When each teams’ hot streaks inevitably turned cold as time crept closer to halftime, Reese’s continued aggression kept the Terps alive amidst a small-scale shooting slump as the defenses locked in. He had 8 points on 4-5 shooting through the first 20 minutes as he continued to look for his own shot.

A 12-0 run gave the Terps a nine point lead with two minutes left, catapulting them into a 32-28 halftime lead. They led Wisconsin in assists (7-6) and rebounds (13-9), with their defense bearing down to keep the Badgers below 50% shooting while they themselves shot 52%. Young led both teams with 11 points, and senior forward Donta Scott shot 2-2 from three while roping in five boards.

The Terps kept pressing the Badgers, and capitalized on offense with a 9-3 run to open the second half. Senior guard Hakim Hart was quiet on the scoring front in the first half, but distributed back-to-back dimes to Reese down low to give him a total seven assists three minutes in. He and his teammates connected on six straight shots as they led 49-36 two minutes later, breaking the game wide open for the first double-digit lead of the night.

Hart stayed active, scoring his seventh point in the half by crossing Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl with a mean snatchback outside the arc and hesitating before drilling the deep shot to send the blacked-out crowd into an even further frenzy.

“I think there’s times that Jahmir needs a rest and needs to get off the ball, and I have a lot of confidence in Hakim making plays,” Willard said. “He’s worked really hard on his post play. He’s given us another passer; he’s given us another post presence.

Reese found himself mired in foul trouble once again, collecting his fourth around the midway point in the second half, but his struggles luckily arrived with the Terps still very much in control. Scott looked confident with his jumper, firing away when the defense gave him space, and Hart continued to use his ball handling to take attention off of Young.

Hart recorded his eighth assist with a bounce pass between two defenders to a cutting Young, who dunked it to go up 17 with under four minutes left to put a bow on his team’s outstanding performance. His assist total was the highest mark a Terp has hit this season, as he and Young combined for 13 of the team’s 15.

“Everybody can make plays; we don’t really care about the stat sheet,” Young said. “[Hakim] having the night that he had was special, and it definitely took the load off of me, [Donta], [Julian] and all the aggressive players’ shoulders.”

Scott was also pivotal in the win, turning in a rare efficient performance in his pursuit to 14 points to go alongside 11 rebounds, a team-high.