The turn of the calendar from one year to the next often represents an opportunity to reflect and reset. It can represent a fresh start, or at least an opportunity for improvement. In college basketball, January traditionally marks the beginning of conference play; it’s when the season gets serious. And while this Maryland team has already seen its share of challenges, the Terps know they still have plenty to work on.
Maryland fell 84-73 at home to No. 16-ranked Michigan Dec. 31, dropping their record to 1-3 in the loaded Big Ten and 6-4 overall this season. The Terps kept pace with the undefeated Wolverines well into the second half, but Michigan reached another gear in the final minutes while head coach Mark Turgeon’s team unraveled. After Maryland brought the score to 60-59 with 10:37 remaining, Michigan unleashed a 19-2 run to put the game away.
“They were shot out of a cannon,” Turgeon said. “They made shots. They were great. We couldn’t guard them.”
Maryland showed plenty of positive signs. The Terps knocked down 48.3 percent of their field goal attempts and shot 13-of-22 (59.1 percent) from 3-point range. Donta Scott drained all five of his triples and finished with 19 points. Eric Ayala had 16 and Jairus Hamilton had 15, both on efficient shooting nights of their own.
But the Terps simply didn’t have enough answers for Michigan. The Wolverines feasted on the Maryland defense, shooting 58.8 percent from the field, including 75 percent on 2-point shots (24-of-32). Michigan led 42-22 in points in the paint and shot 18-of-20 from the foul line while Maryland went just 4-of-6. Wolverines rookie center Hunter Dickinson, the chirpiest player on the floor all night, poured in 26 points and 11 rebounds on 10-of-11 shooting.
It was perhaps the first game all season in which Maryland’s propensity for small-ball lineups left the Terps at a massive disadvantage. Dickinson, who stands 7-foot-2, was matched up with 6-foot-8 Hamilton or 6-foot-9 Galin Smith most of the night (7-foot-2 Chol Marial logged just six minutes). When Maryland guarded him one-on-one, he had no trouble getting an easy shot. And on the rare occasions the Terps doubled him, he was able to get the ball out to another playmaker.
“He was big, physically and just his impact on the game,” Ayala said. “I thought we played to the scouting report that the coaches gave us. Hunter beat us as a team. We’ve got to be better helping each other out on the interior and those big guys.”
Franz Wagner chipped in 19 points for the Wolverines on 8-of-14 shooting, while grad transfer point guard Mike Smith tallied 16 points, six rebounds and six assists while shooting 5-of-7 from the floor. Ayala pointed out that Dickinson’s dominance more than made up for a quiet night from Isaiah Livers, Michigan’s second-leading scorer (1-of-5 for seven points).
Allowing 84 points on just 64 offensive possessions is hard to match, and Maryland simply couldn’t keep pace for 40 minutes. The Terps shot 9-of-11 from distance in the first half and still trailed by two at intermission. Their hot shooting continued early in the second half, vaulting them to a 54-50 lead with 15:04 remaining. But then Michigan went on a 10-0 run, and after Maryland got five points back, the Wolverines answered with their 19-2 outburst. The Terps actually closed on an 8-0 run to make the final score look somewhat respectable.
After Maryland took that four-point lead, the Wolverines made 14 of their next 17 field goals while the Terps went 3-of-15. Michigan switched to zone and flustered the Terps’ offense, which kept settling for jumpers and couldn’t knock enough down. Weirdly, Scott didn’t take a single shot in the final 10:37; Aaron Wiggins led the team with four attempts in that span, going 1-of-4 down the stretch and 2-of-11 overall.
Perhaps most concerning, though, was the absence of senior guard Darryl Morsell for the entire second half. Morsell took an elbow to the face from Wagner late in the first half, leaving a noticeable dent on the side of his face. Doctors held him out for the second half and was taken to a shock trauma center in Baltimore after the game. Morsell is expected to be out for one to two weeks after surgery on a fractured bone in his face. Maryland wasn’t the same team with him sidelined.
“Everything changed when Darryl got hurt. Everything changed,” Turgeon said. “We were a thin team before. We became even thinner. Donta [Scott] had to play the whole game — he was exhausted and he was terrific. So there’s a lot of things that need to be navigated between now and Monday [against Indiana].”
The Terps’ visit to Bloomington Jan. 4 now becomes another pivotal moment in this gauntlet of a Big Ten schedule. Indiana is 1-2 in league play and one of just five unranked teams in the conference, but the Hoosiers are still 25th in KenPom. Without Morsell, it’ll have to revamp its defensive gameplan. The Terps had questions to answer in the frontcourt even with Morsell healthy.
Maryland’s lack of big-man depth has been a storyline all season. The Terps lost two big men via the transfer portal this spring and Jalen Smith became an NBA lottery pick, all after losing Makhi and Makhel Mitchell in December 2019. Turgeon and the staff missed on several top targets, but did bring in Hamilton and Galin Smith to play alongside Scott and Marial. Scott and Hamilton have been by far the best offensive options of that quartet, which has led to a bevy of small lineups in crunch time — against Wisconsin, Scott functioned as the center surrounded by four guards.
For the most part, the size disadvantages haven’t proved costly. Maryland frustrated versatile Wisconsin big men Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers in its Dec. 28 upset against the No. 6 Badgers. The Terps’ bigs mostly held their own against Purdue’s Trevion Williams and Zach Edey. But after what Dickinson did to Maryland, it’s easy to worry about the next three games. Indiana (Jan. 4) has versatile power forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. Iowa (Jan. 7) has reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza. And Illinois (Jan. 10) has Kofi Cockburn, perhaps the most physically imposing player in the league.
“We are who we are, and we’ve got to figure out a way to guard with this lineup,” Turgeon said. “I’m gonna put the best players on the floor, and if they’re 6-[foot]-6 or shorter, that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Maryland showed this week that despite its limitations, it’s capable of keeping up with, or even knocking off, the top teams in this loaded conference. That wasn’t a given after some non-competitive performances earlier in December. But the Terps still enter the new year with ground to make up and plenty of questions to answer.
Dickinson, along with Wolverines teammate Terrance Williams (who didn’t play in this game), made headlines earlier this week saying he felt “disrespected” by Maryland not heavily recruiting him. And the freshman from DeMatha made a show of antagonizing his hometown school, chirping at the Terps’ bench after seemingly every bucket. He was whistled for a technical foul late in the first half — this followed a technical against Turgeon and a double technical against both benches — but kept dominating.
Maryland did offer Dickinson — the No. 2 recruit in the state and No. 42 prospect in the country, per 247Sports Composite rankings — a scholarship and hosted him for an unofficial visit in 2018. The Terps seemed to shift their priorities elsewhere as his recruiting process continued, though. Perhaps Dickinson’s interest waned first. Perhaps Maryland was content with the big men in its pipeline (Makhi and Makhel Mitchell were fixtures in the Terps’ 2019 class before lasting just one semester in College Park).
Either way, it’s hard to be surprised a DeMatha blue-chipper left home; Maryland hasn’t signed any Stags since Travis Garrison in 2002 and has rarely even put itself in the running for the school’s top prospects since then. There’s no public feud between the programs, but the trend has certainly been frustrating to some — including Dickinson.
“Hopefully I showed that the guys down the road at Madison Street are pretty good, and they should go down there some time,” Dickinson said after the game. “I wish we had fans … I could have got a real welcome home from the Maryland fans.”
Dickinson did more than enough in one week to vault to the top of Maryland fans’ most-hated list. In a non-pandemic year, he’d have a near-capacity crowd booing him and calling him ugly. His antics were their own sideshow, but his domination of the Terps down low deserves the headlines.
This story was updated with the news about Morsell’s injury and timetable for a return.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox