Maryland men’s basketball seeks to close out the calendar year on a high note

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Maryland men’s basketball offered a glimpse of what it’s capable of the last time it took the hardwood.

Maryland’s, 70-68, victory over then-No. 20 Florida granted interim head coach Danny Manning his first win at the helm and the Terps first win over a ranked non-conference opponent since 2014, of course. 

But the production on the court that made the win possible was likely the most encouraging part of the Terps most recent competition. There were a generous amount of turnovers given up (11 first half turnovers) and a concerning lack of frontcourt offense (five combined points from centers Qudus Wahab and Julian Reese). But for the first time all season, in spite of the absence of backup guard Ian Martinez, the Terps backcourt kept the scoring effort alive. And they managed to do so at an exceptionally efficient rate. 

Eric Ayala, Fatts Russell and Hakim Hart combined for 49 of the Terps 70 points on 53% shooting from the field and 77% from three. 

Naturally, the next step would be sustaining the success. And with the two-game home non-conference slate ahead, maintaining a high level of play should be fairly undemanding. 

A COVID-related cancellation of the Loyola Maryland game that was initially scheduled on Dec. 28 allowed Maryland to settle with Lehigh as its next opponent on the same day. Brown will be the last non-conference opponent of the season two days later on Dec. 30. 

“When you see games are getting canceled … “ Manning said. “For us and anybody you just feel fortunate if you get the opportunity to play and that’s our mindset.”

Lehigh is ranked as the 327th best team in college basketball, according to KenPom (Maryland is 49th). Brown is winless against every high major team it has played this season. In essence, Maryland has a pair of perfect tune-up opportunities. 

“Well, the first thing that we want to do is get on the court. You know what I mean?” Manning said of his team that hasn’t played in over two weeks. “So for us you want to knock the rust off, getting up and down the court and you get a chance to do that in a game environment, which is always good. And so we’re excited to get back out on the court and play a game we have to continue to build on what we did the last time we stepped out on the court with Florida and go from there.”

The concluding non-conference stretch should be vital games for furthering the Terps offensive (or overall) prowess — an awfully important undertaking as Big Ten play awaits. After the calendar year ends, the Big Ten slate, barring any COVID-19 misadventures, will be unrelenting, with little time for rest or inconsistency.  

“Conference [play] is a long long grind of a haul,” Manning said. 

Ideally, the two games ahead allow Maryland to sustain a semblance of consistency before the new year. The Terps should be looking to build off their most recent monumental win, take two more and enter conference play with a strong three game streak and a much better idea of what type of team it wants to be and how it wants to win. 

And with what the Terps have shown thus far, there are plenty of directions they can go — from an inside-out approach to scoring to a strictly defensive team that utilizes its defense to create offense. Becoming a team with a rigid identity also happens to be a matter of consistency. 

Last year, inconsistency was due to the obvious fact that the 2020 roster was ill-equipped for the front court talent of the Big Ten that season. This year, the lack of consistency has been a result of many factors, and few, if any, have to do with Maryland’s capabilities as a roster or its talent.

The win over Florida was a demonstration that there is a lot of good that the Terps can look to maintain and plenty that they can control. The two games ahead give Maryland a crucial chance to begin the journey towards consistency before it’s too late.