It’s been an eventful few days for Maryland men’s basketball, as the Terps started their Big Ten gauntlet with a pair of close calls on the road. Mark Turgeon’s team had its hearts broken on Christmas Day with a last-minute loss to Purdue, but bounced back three days later to pull off the upset of No. 6 Wisconsin on the road.
Here’s what happened in those crazy games, and a look at where Maryland goes from here.
Dec. 28 — Maryland 70, No. 6 Wisconsin 64
Anarchy? Nope. Just college basketball.
With 16:43 remaining in the second half, Maryland trailed 31-24 and had missed 11 straight field goal attempts. Then the Terps caught fire, knocking down 16 of their final 19 shots and sinking free throws down the stretch to upset the No. 6 Badgers on the road.
This time, it was Ayala leading Maryland down the stretch. His first points came on a layup with 16:14 remaining to snap that string of 11 misses, and the junior point guard finished with 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting (he started 0-for-5). Wiggins tallied 15 points and nine rebounds, while Scott added 12, Hamilton nine and Morsell eight.
Maryland went back and forth with Wisconsin all night, both in a slugfest of a first half and an offensive fireworks display in the second half. The Badgers led 28-24 after a physical first half in which both teams shot 10-of-27 (37 percent) from the field. With Wisconsin holding its largest lead at 34-26 early in the second half, Turgeon switched Maryland’s defense to a pressure zone, flustering the Badgers and helping spur Maryland’s 8-0 run to tie the game.
It was a quick 6-0 run later in the period that gave the Terps the lead for good. Hamilton knocked down a 3-pointer from the elbow, then Ayala came away with a steal and made a driving layup, converting the three-point play after Wisconsin guard Brad Davison — known for drawing charges — was whistled for the block. In 21 seconds, Maryland went from trailing 52-51 to leading 57-52, and the Badgers never pulled ahead again.
Maryland ultimately shot 16-of-25 (64 percent) in the second half to post a 26-of-52 (50 percent) clip for the game. The Terps still shot just 6-of-17 from long distance, but turned around their fortunes at the foul line, knocking down 12 of 15 free throws and going 11-of-12 in the second half.
Wisconsin point guard D’Mitrik Trice had 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while Aleem Ford chipped in 10 points. The undersized Terps stifled the Badgers’ versatile big men, as Micah Potter shot 2-of-8 and Nate Reuvers started 0-of-6 before finishing 4-of-10. Davison went 2-of-8 as well, and Wisconsin shot 43.6 percent from the floor as a group. It’s just the second loss of the year for the Badgers, with the other coming on a buzzer-beating tip-in against Marquette Dec. 4.
The victory only moved Maryland to 1-2 in the Big Ten (6-3 overall), but it meant so much more. This is the kind of win that can change the outlook of a season. And the Terps know it.
Dec. 25 — Purdue 73, Maryland 70
The Terps fought their way back from 15 down to tie the game in the final minute, and Morsell stepped to the foul line needing two free throws to level the score once again. But the senior missed both attempts, and Ayala’s off-balance attempt on the ensuing possession had no luck, and Purdue escaped with a three-point Christmas Day victory.
The Boilermakers came out hot, making nine of their first 15 shots from the floor to open up a 25-10 lead. Purdue led 41-28 at halftime, but the Terps roared back early in the second half. An 11-1 run, capped by two Jairus Hamilton triples, brought Maryland within a point at 46-45. The Boilermakers answered with an 8-0 run, though, and clung to the lead until Donta Scott’s layup knotted the score at 70 with 58 seconds remaining. Scott was then called for goaltending against Purdue’s Eric Hunter Jr. with 38 seconds left, and Maryland didn’t have a final answer.
Scott, who’s been Maryland’s best player the last few weeks, didn’t score his first points until the 9:01 mark of the second half but finished with a team-high 15 points and eight rebounds. Aaron Wiggins chipped in 14, while Ayala had 13 and Morsell notched 10. The Terps rebounded from another slow shooting start to shoot 43.1 percent from the field and 35.7 percent on 3-pointers as a team, but shot a meager 10-of-21 at the line; Morsell went 1-of-6 with the two biggest misses late.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Newman led Purdue with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, while Hunter narrowly trailed with 16. Star big man Trevion Williams battled foul trouble throughout the game, but flourished late to contribute 10 points and eight rebounds.
— The evolution of Maryland’s small-ball philosophy this season has continued in the last couple weeks. The Terps initially hoped centers Galin Smith and Chol Marial could combine to provide consistent minutes. Then it looked like Maryland’s crunch-time lineup would have Hamilton at center. But against Wisconsin, the Terps played with four guards around 6-foot-7 Scott for nearly the entire second half. Sophomore Hakim Hart has been a steady two-way presence in these lineups, and while it’s unclear if the strategy can work against everyone, it was certainly enough to handle the No. 6 Badgers.
— Maryland is also establishing a clear top six — Ayala, Morsell, Wiggins, Hart, Scott and Hamilton combined to play 172 of 200 minutes at Purdue and 176 at Wisconsin. That second unit, though, has had its moments as well. Former walk-on Reese Mona was a plus-2 in five energetic against the Boilermakers, and Marial has impressed in each of the last two games. He logged 12 solid minutes against Purdue and contributed on both ends against Wisconsin, but didn’t see high-leverage action in either contest after getting in foul trouble.
Turgeon will continue to trot out Marial, Smith and Aquan Smart (and perhaps Mona) early in games, so they’ll have chances to play their way into increased minutes. Getting midseason enrollee James Graham III should provide a boost to the second unit as well. If all of these players can be reliable options all season, Maryland will be as deep as it’s been in years.
— Wiggins and Morsell, who had simultaneously been slumping over a stretch of several games, both picked up their form on this road trip. Wiggins scored 14 and 15 points in the two contests, recorded two steals in each and grabbed nine rebounds at Wisconsin. Morsell, free-throw follies notwithstanding, went 4-of-6 for 10 points Dec. 25 and 3-of-6 for eight points Dec. 28. Ayala has been the most consistent member of the veteran trio, but high-level production from these two makes Maryland a much more imposing team.
— It was impossible to watch these games and not notice Maryland’s energy from the bench. The Terps’ reserves and coaches were jumping and hollering after seemingly every play, good or bad. They’ve made a point of this ever since their Dec. 14 loss to Rutgers, when Turgeon felt the Scarlet Knights’ sideline energy made a difference.
“We work hard when we’re together, but we try to have fun as much as we can,” Turgeon said. “Our guys really like each other, they cheer for each other, they’re excited for each other, and … I told guys, if they’re not gonna give more energy, I’m gonna leave them home. I’ll get people off the street, start COVID-testing them every day, and our guys have brought energy ever since we said that.”
The road ahead
Well, it still doesn’t get much easier from here. Maryland’s next four games are as follows:
Dec. 31 vs. No. 19 Michigan
Jan. 4 at Indiana
Jan. 7 vs. No. 4 Iowa
Jan. 10 at No. 18 Illinois
A Jan. 16 home matchup with Nebraska (No. 115 in KenPom’s predictive rankings) follows this gauntlet, but then Maryland visits No. 16 Michigan and No. 21 Minnesota before hosting Wisconsin and Purdue. As of this week, the Big Ten has nine teams ranked in the AP top 25, the most ranked teams any league has had since the old supersized Big East in 2011. And even squads outside that group — Maryland, Indiana, Purdue and Penn State — have shown they’re capable of beating anyone in the league on any given night.
Maryland still has some catching up to do. It’s an absolutely loaded league, and the Terps don’t have the firepower they’ve had in previous seasons. But this looked like an entirely different team Dec. 28 than it did Dec. 9, when Maryland laid an egg in a blowout loss to Clemson. Even last week, the Terps still looked like they’d be swallowed up by their conference. Now they have a road win over a top-10 team for the first time since 2009 (that was at then-No. 1 North Carolina). And they look like they’re capable of knocking off anyone.
Let’s close this story with some thunderous dunks against the Badgers.
First, it’s Morsell with the slam and the mean mug in the first half.
Then, with Maryland leading by three entering the final minute, it’s Scott finding space, slashing to the basket and putting three different Badgers on a poster. We’ve seen this before from him, but this one might be more impressive given the moment.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox