There was plenty on the line at Assembly Hall: Indiana had a mounting losing streak to quell and Maryland men’s basketball had a winning streak to extend and a dreaded losing season to circumvent.
But only Indiana achieved its goal, as the Terps strayed further away from consistency.
In its 15th loss of the season — its most since 2013-14 — Maryland (13-15, 5-12 B1G) never led and eventually fell to a determined Indiana (17-10, 8-9 B1G) at home, 74-64.
“We competed at times, but not enough in this tough environment to get a win.” head coach Danny Manning said. “I thought we had some guys do some things fairly well for us — I thought Fatts [Russell] played hard …”
Fatts Russell exploded for 16 second half points, but only two of his teammates eclipsed double-digits for the night as Indiana played to its strengths, commanding the paint and, by extension, the game.
“I was just trying to keep my team in it,” Russell said.
With the start Indiana enjoyed in the game, and the frontcourt shortcomings Maryland endured all season, the Terps found themselves trailing, falling victim to an array of lane blitzes and post touches. As expected, paint play was the focus of the Hoosiers offense, catalyzing nearly every possession.
Trayce Jackson-Davis demonstrated so on just the first scoring possession of the game. Smothered by both Fatts Russell and Qudus Wahab, the Hoosiers’ star big man spotted a wide open Race Thompson for a simple one-handed slam. The opening points were Thompson’s first of 19 — all in the paint — in 38 minutes.
Post doubles led to a scrambling Terps’ defense. And if the first player wasn’t immediately open, the visiting defense found itself muddled in rotation, chasing cutters and the ball.
For the entirety of the first half, Indiana used the approach to notch 20 of its 30 points in the paint. But Maryland’s offense never let the game slip. A lead-swelling, 8-0, run late in the first half had the potential to put the game away, but Maryland had a response.
“When you’re making that many shots, you gotta become a lot tougher,” Manning said. “Especially when you’re playing on the road in that environment.”
Helping erase a 10 point deficit, halt a run and exit the halftime in reasonable shape down just 30-27, Hakim Hart drained a three and converted a pair of free throws. And Russell punctuated the run with a steal followed by a double-clutch fastbreak layup.
Another bulldozing 12-2 run by the Hoosiers to start the final half looked to have the same effect as the last. The Hoosiers kept the play in the paint, too. Indiana’s Xavier Johnson slashed to the basket using ball screens, at one point emphatically slamming the ball with one hand to give his team a strong multiple possession lead early in the second half.
Johnson, a Maryland native, worked his way to a flawless 7-7 shooting night from the field that included three three-pointers.
“[Johnson] showed up today … He was hot today,” Russell said.
Race Thompson also continued to dominate the frontcourt in lieu of a struggling Jackson-Davis, who was dealing with foul trouble for the majority of the game.
Julian Reese and Russell seemingly had a response for the second half run. Reese bullied his way to the rim, dunked twice and scored eight in the second half. Russell led with a team-high 23 — 16 of which came in the final 20 minutes — regularly calling his own number and showing an unrelenting will to play with energy until the final horn.
“It’s coming up on my last couple games here at Maryland and my college career,” Russell said. “I’m just trying to go out winning.”
The Terps’ starting point guard hit back-to-back threes to help cut the lead down to three points and swished a step-back jumper to silence the raucous Assembly Hall crowd.
But as Johnson continued his perfect night, Thompson enjoyed little resistance and few of Russell’s teammates stepped up to put high-percentage points on the board, Russell’s one-man scoring crew proved to be all for naught, as Maryland failed to capture the elusive lead it had been chasing all night.