With strong schedule ahead, Maryland men’s basketball will rely on its strong backcourt

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

For the first half of the season, inconsistency overshadowed Maryland’s veteran backcourt. However, recent games have shown just how dangerous the team can be if both their guards play to their full potential.

“At the beginning of the season, it didn’t go as well as we planned,” Fatts Russell said. “But we kept fighting. This team is full of fighters.”

Russell is coming off his highest scoring game as a Terp with his win at Rutgers. He and fellow guard Eric Ayala shot at a high rate as they combined for 45 points, 30 of which came from three-pointers.

But according to their head coach, as two of the oldest players on the team, their leadership is equally as important as their scoring ability.

“We need those guys to continue to be aggressive, not only scoring the basketball, but also facilitating,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “Their leadership, their understanding, [and] their experience is something that we depend on throughout the course of the ballgame.”

Russell grew up near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania while Ayala grew up near Wilmington, Delaware. With only 32 miles separating the two cities, chemistry between the two guards has been a decade in the making.

“We knew each other for a long time,” Russell said. “I feel like he’s one of my close friends and I’m glad to have the opportunity to play with him this year.”

Maryland men’s basketball is on a short two-game win streak, but their upcoming games won’t get easier. Their next five matchups all feature teams who are either in the top 25 or are just outside it. Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue — the current top-five teams in the conference — will all be facing Maryland in the span of two weeks in February. 

“When I committed here, I wanted to play games like this,” said Russell. “Every Big Ten game’s kind of very important.”

First on their schedule is a Saturday afternoon home matchup against Indiana. Even as the backcourt hopes to fulfill its expectations, the frontcourt will have its hands full offensively and defensively dealing with Trayce Jackson-Davis, who is fifth in the conference in scoring and first in blocks.

“One thing I can say for sure is [Trayce] is quick, he’s very explosive,” said Qudus Wahab. “I’m just looking forward to the matchup tomorrow. We have to keep the momentum going.”