Three Takeaways From Maryland Men’s Basketball’s Losses To Iowa, Illinois

After one conference game in December, the Maryland men’s basketball team resumed its Big Ten slate this week. Maryland faced Iowa Jan. 3 and Illinois Jan. 6, both on the road.

The Terps endured a chaotic month of December but ended it on a three-game winning streak and entered this road trip with hopes of winning their first conference game of the season.

But the Terps (8-6, 0-3 Big Ten) failed to emerge victorious in either game. The team lost to Iowa, 80-75, and Illinois, 76-64.

Here are three takeaways from the first two conference games of January.

1. The Terps struggled with slow starts and opponents’ star players.

Iowa put together a quick lead against Maryland Jan. 3, and the Terps struggled in particular to contain Iowa sophomore Keegan Murray, who posted 16 points in the first half alone. Murray was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Jan. 3 and averages 24.7 points per game.

Interim head coach Danny Manning said that Murray resembles a “first-round draft pick.”

“He’s a great basketball player,” Manning said. “He’s a terrific basketball player. … He’s a complete total package, and as a basketball fan, I appreciate what he does out there on the court. But we didn’t do enough to slow him down.”

Maryland also struggled to find its offense in the first half, shooting 38 percent from the field during the first nine minutes of the game compared to Iowa’s 67 percent. However, the momentum of the game quickly changed, and Maryland fought back from a double-digit deficit that allowed it to reclaim the lead at the half (40-36).

Graduate guard Fatts Russell sparked Maryland’s offense in the first half, finishing with 12 points. With a little more than eight minutes remaining in the first half, Russell drilled a 3-pointer that got his team within one point (24-23).

But the slow start came back to haunt the Terps. The Hawkeyes’ offense reappeared in the second half and was led by Murray, who finished the night with 35 points. As Murray dominated the floor, Maryland fought to stay in the game.

“It’s been a problem in the past that we’re trying to address,” Russell said of the slow starts after the loss to Iowa. “Now, if we clean that mistake up … it’s a different game.”

The Terps had a similar performance against Illinois.

Illinois built a 10-3 lead against the Terps not even three minutes into the game, and the Terps struggled to generate offense early on. Maryland trailed 21-7 midway through the first half.

But the Terps fought back from the 14-point deficit, and with almost two minutes remaining in the first half, a 3-pointer from Scott gave the Terps their first lead of the game (30-28).

“I thought Donta gave us some really good energy tonight in the first half,” Manning said of Scott, who had 15 points in the first half.

Illinois junior Kofi Cockburn’s 7-foot, 285-pound frame presented a challenge for Maryland, as the Terps struggled to generate offense whenever he was on the court. And Maryland seemed to have no answer for the Jamaica native on the other end, either.

Entering the Jan. 6 matchup, Cockburn was averaging 22.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. However, Cockburn got into some foul trouble early, forcing him to spend some time on the bench. Still, he finished the game with 23 points and 18 rebounds.

Freshman center Julian Reese and junior center Qudus Wahab both fouled out late in the game, which only allowed Cockburn to continue dominating the floor. He had two dunks in the last three minutes of the game.

“Kofi is one of the most dominant bigs in the country, and when he’s able to carve out space like he did today, he’s a tough cover,” Manning said.

While the Terps have started slow for most games this season, they tend to bounce back for a bit. However, the Terps have let leads slip away in the end. A strong start may help turn things around if the team wants to succeed.

2. The Terps didn’t get many contributions outside of their starting five, but Julian Reese impressed his coach against Illinois.

On Jan. 3, graduate guard Xavier Green, sophomore guard Ian Martinez and junior Julian Reese came off the bench to combine for six points. Reese finished with four points; Green, two, and Martinez, none.

Thus, Maryland had to rely on contributions from its starting five against Iowa. Eric Ayala finished the night with 19 points and six rebounds; Hakim Hart, 11 points and eight rebounds; Fatts Russell, 16 points and four rebounds; Qudus Wahab, 12 points and seven rebounds, and Donta Scott, 11 points.

“No moral victories, but there’s some areas where we feel like [if] we get better, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win any game that we play,” Manning said after the Iowa game.

It was a similar story against Illinois. Once again, the Terps had to rely on contributions from their starting five, but Wahab didn’t have any points this time.

For the second consecutive game, the Terps held a tight lead at the half (34-30). Scott was responsible for 15 of those points, and he also posted four rebounds.

The second half was not much different, as the Terps were led by their veterans. Ayala finished the night with 16 points; Russell, 11 points and five assists; Scott, 17 points and seven rebounds, and Hart, 11 points.

However, Reese’s performance impressed Manning. A dunk by the Baltimore native over Cockburn extended Maryland’s lead by three (42-39). He finished the night with six rebounds, three steals and one block.

“It kind of reminded me of my freshman year. The first game I played against was [Len] Bias,” Manning said. “I walked away from that game impressed by Lenny Bias, but I also walked away saying, ‘You know what, if I can keep up with him, if I can compete with him, I’m going to have a chance to do something special.'”

Maryland will only face Big Ten teams for the rest of the season. If the Terps want to make a run at the NCAA Tournament, it desperately needs to find additional contributions. The bench’s lack of production will hurt the Terrapins as they move further along in Big Ten play.

3. The team’s veterans have been difference-makers recently.

Eric Ayala helped keep the Terps competitive against Iowa, as he converted five shots from behind the arc. Russell helped his team jump back into the game against Iowa, too. He drilled a 3-pointer that gave Maryland a three-point lead (33-30) with about six minutes left in the first half.

After trailing for the majority of the first half, the Terrapins led the Hawkeyes by four points at the half.

Ayala helped his team overcome a 14-point deficit against Illinois, too. The senior scored a basket on a fast break that put the Terps within eight points (21-13) of the Fighting Illini and sparked an offensive run for the Terps.

With a little more than seven minutes remaining in the first half, Ayala spun around his opponent and made a jump shot that put the Terps within six points of Illinois. Ayala forced a foul and made the free throw to cut the deficit to 23-18.

Ayala’s play continued into the second half, as he nailed a 3-pointer that increased the Terps lead to five points (47-42).

Scott also had a strong performance against Illinois, as he led the team with 17 points. As the Terps fought to claim a lead, Scott nailed a 3-pointer with less than five minutes remaining in the first half. The basket put Maryland within four points of Illinois (27-23).

Toward the end of the first half, the Philadelphia native drilled a shot from deep that gave the Terps their first lead of the game. Scott also had a dunk and jumper with less than two minutes in the first half.

“All I really cared about was getting my team in the lead,” Scott said. “So whatever I had to do to get my team on top at that point in time, that’s what I was trying to do.”

If the Terps want to stay competitive within games, capture some wins and make a run at the NCAA Tournament, the veterans need to continue leading the way.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Emma Shuster

See all posts by Emma Shuster. Follow Emma Shuster on Twitter at @emmashuster1.