Maryland men’s basketball is back in the win column, holding off Purdue Jan. 18 to improve to 14-4 this season.
The No. 17-ranked Terps, coming off back-to-back road losses at Iowa and Wisconsin, came out firing at Xfinity Center, scoring the game’s first nine points and racing out to a 20-4 lead. They went into halftime up 36-20, but watched as Purdue slowly trimmed the margin throughout the second half. After the Boilermakers made it a three-point game with 3:52 remaining, though, Maryland’s defense pitched a shutout down the stretch as the Terps escaped with a 57-50 victory.
Sophomore forward Jalen Smith led three Terps in double figures, notching a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman forward Donta Scott tallied 11 of his career-high 13 points in the first half, while sophomore guard Aaron Wiggins chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds.
Maryland shot 14-of-26 from the floor in a blazing first half, but managed just 7-of-25 shooting after halftime to finish the afternoon at 41.2 percent overall. The Terps made seven of their first 10 three-point attempts, then missed their final 14. But the defense held tough, limiting Purdue to 35.7 percent shooting for the game.
1. This was the inverse of so many Maryland games this season.
The Terps hadn’t scored more than four unanswered points to start a game this season before opening on a 9-0 run Saturday. The shots kept falling, and the lead stretched to 14-2, then 20-4, then 28-10 at the 8:02 mark of the first half. Maryland’s 16-point halftime lead was its second-largest of the season (they led 42-21 at the break against Marquette in Orlando).
In the second half, the offense disappeared. Open shots stopped coming easily, and Maryland didn’t connect when it had chances. Purdue made five of its first six shots out of the locker room and kept inching closer. It was nine, then seven, then five, then three with 3:52 remaining.
Even without a rhythm, though, the Terps made just enough plays to escape. Wiggins found Smith for a dunk with 2:06 remaining, and the defense answered by forcing two straight turnovers and contesting desperation shots. Purdue missed its final seven field-goal attempts during the last 6:01.
“Our defense was terrific the whole game. Except for maybe the start of the second half, our defense was outstanding,” Terps head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Couldn’t make shots in the second half — that happens to us — but we kept guarding.”
That defense has been a bedrock all season, and the hot start showed a glimpse of what this team can be on offense.
“Maryland’s a much better three-point shooting team than they’ve shown this year, and you saw it in the first half,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “They forced us to go smaller and switch four ways. If they can shoot the ball well to go with how good they are defensively, they’ve got a great point guard and a great big guy, they can go a long way.”
2. Jalen Smith dominated on both ends.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore now has 10 straight games scoring in double figures, and it’s his third time reaching 18 points in the last five contests. Smith also grabbed 10 rebounds to record his first double-double since Dec. 29 and his ninth this season.
Perhaps most notably, though, “Stix” locked down Purdue’s tandem of big men in the post. Trevion Williams outweighs Smith by 45 pounds, while Matt Haarms stands at 7-foot-3. They combined for 12 points and nine boards on 6-of-14 shooting; Smith topped those numbers by himself.
“Honestly, we planned to double the post to start off the game, and Stix, there were times when he couldn’t get in front of it and so we just let him play one-on-one and he was getting stops,” Wiggins said. “So Turge in the second half, he just said, ‘Stix has got them in the post. Don’t double.'”
3. Donta Scott was another two-way weapon.
The freshman had never scored more than nine points in college, but had 11 after just 12 minutes of action against Purdue. He opened the scoring with a three-point play, scored on a layup and then drilled consecutive threes from the same spot to reach double figures.
Scott added just one more bucket from there, but his final line — 13 points, six boards, 5-of-8 shooting — is his most impressive as a Terp. He also helped quiet Purdue’s Nojel Eastern in the second half, as the Boilermaker wing went scoreless in the final 11:40 after tallying 14 early.
“He guards every night. He’s a terrific defender, he’s got toughness down there,” Turgeon said. “We need him to make shots. He was 0-for-4 at Wisconsin; if he makes a couple of them, all of a sudden we’re 5-2 instead of 4-3, so those shots were big. He works at it. He’s grown up in his work habits … he’s real important to us.”
4. Maryland got by with an especially thin rotation.
For the second straight game, the Terps relied almost exclusively on three scorers. Smith, Scott and Wiggins combined for 43 of Maryland’s 57 points — Cowan, sophomore guard Eric Ayala and junior guard Darryl Morsell combined to shoot 4-of-20 from the floor and 0-of-9 from three. And the gap between Maryland’s top six and the extended rotation was as glaring as it’s been all year, as those players logged 99 of a possible 100 second-half minutes.
Cowan struggled for the second time in three games, shooting 1-of-8, and Ayala and Morsell are mired in mini-slumps. Turgeon admitted in his press conference that his team needs to get deeper (which would mean sophomores Ricky Lindo and Serrel Smith Jr. providing more consistent production and freshman Chol Marial continuing to grow comfortable as he returns from injury). The role players stepped up around the turn of the calendar last season, and they’ll need to do it again as conference play rolls on.
5. The Terps held serve at home.
Maryland is now 11-0 in College Park this season, including four straight home victories to open conference play. Big Ten home teams entered Jan. 18 with a 37-6 record in league games, and this trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
This makes the Terps’ next two games potentially season-altering. They visit Northwestern Jan. 21 and Indiana Jan. 26. The Wildcats are last in the Big Ten, while Maryland has already beaten the Hoosiers this month. KenPom favors the Terps in both contests, but neither can be labelled a sure thing.
“Whoever’s gonna win this league is gonna have to win some road games,” Painter said, pointing out that Michigan State has had five of seven conference games at home while Wisconsin has offset good road wins with home losses. His Boilermakers are 1-5 in true road games.
This game was never going to answer the question marks surrounding Maryland away from home. All the Terps could do was win a tough contest on their home court. And they did just that.
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