BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Maryland men’s basketball got just what it needed heading into a 16-day break in the middle of its regular season.
It was a back-and-forth battle the entire way in Brooklyn, New York on Sunday at the Barclays Center as Maryland took down No. 20 Florida, 70-68, to capture the major upset win to snap its three-game losing streak.
“We had a lot of meetings, you know, heart-to-heart meetings, and told each other that we’re gonna go for this thing, we’re gonna to stay together and we’re gonna fight this out,” guard Fatts Russell said. “I felt like today was a step in the right direction.”
The Terps are now 6-4 with a huge win under their belt after starting 0-1 in conference play under interim head coach Danny Manning. This is certainly a step in the right direction for the program and it will look to build on its momentum on Dec. 28 when it faces Loyola in College Park.
But for now, here are the three biggest takeaways from Maryland’s sixth win of the season.
Fans got another small look with Julian Reese and Qudus Wahab on the floor together.
One of the big complaints about Maryland was its lack of creativity on offense when former head coach Mark Turgeon was leading the program earlier in the season en route to a 5-3 record before Manning stepped in as the interim head coach ahead of the Northwestern game.
A potential solution, or so some thought, was placing two of the tallest players on the roster on the floor together. Center Qudus Wahab and freshman forward Julian Reese both have unique styles to their game, and Turgeon opted to never utilize the duo on the court together during the competition.
Wahab and Reese had played just a few minutes on the floor at the same time heading into Sunday's game with the Gators.
Manning made it clear that the program needed to switch up some things on offense and put both big men on the court at the 14:12 mark of the first half. Manning had them together on the court for about three minutes.
It would be logical to expect that even though the interior presence on the defensive end would ultimately improve for the Terps when both Wahab and Reese were present — especially with a more than capable Colin Castleton for Florida on the floor — but the spacing on offense would have its issues.
However, there wasn’t much to note of in the first three or so minutes with the 6-foot-11 center and the 6-foot-9 freshman sharing the floor, with Maryland outscoring Florida 5-4 in that short span.
Surprisingly, that would be the last of Wahab and Reese on the court together for the rest of the game. The Terps and Manning opted to go back to its usual lineup of either Reese or Wahab at the five.
“Not really,” Manning said if there was anything that went into going in a different direction with Wahab and Reese playing together. “We were ready to do that, without question and I liked the way they looked. I think our staff, we’ve been talking about it for awhile, we think it can be an effective lineup for us.”
The dilemma to put Wahab and Reese on the floor together is a storyline to keep an eye on moving forward. Especially considering that Maryland was out-rebounded 35-30, the decision to have Reese and Wahab play together at the same time is something that Manning may move to more to in the future.
Maryland won the efficiency battle, but turnovers continue to haunt the team.
In the midst of a three-game losing streak, Maryland scored 55, 58 and 61 points, respectively, against Louisville, Virginia Tech and Northwestern.
The offense has been in shambles as of late and the Terps’ points per game entering the matchup with the Gators sat at just over 68.
But in the first half, Maryland’s efficiency was solid. Not only was it solid, but the program was tied with the 20th-ranked team in the nation going into the break. It was a much different feel to some of the first halves Maryland has played in this season, as it has led just twice going into the break in 10 games this season.
Maryland finished the opening half with a 50% shooting clip from the floor on the first 22 attempts. The Terps also started out 4-for-8 from three-point range, another area of offensive struggle. Maryland’s 33 points in the first half were its third-most this season. Yet it was still tied before the second half began.
The Terps came into the game averaging exactly 13 turnovers and they almost usurped that total after the first 20 minutes. Maryland had 11 turnovers, two shy of its per 40-minute average, with three coming from Russell, two from Eric Ayala and one from Reese and Xavier Green.
The turnovers were a problem against Florida’s defense and it counteracted the Terps’ good shooting start.
Luckily for the Terps, the mistakes on offense weren’t a huge issue in the second half for a Maryland team that was reeling for a win as it looked to turn its season around against a ranked opponent at a neutral site.
The Terps committed just five turnovers in the second half as it ended with 15 total on the night, and the team’s shooting continued to excel over the course of the remaining 20 minutes.
Maryland nearly matched its first-half efficiency with a 48.1 shooting percentage in the second half. Florida hit just 38% of its field goal attempts. The Terps also connected on four of their five three-point tries in the second half, which helped it keep up with Florida’s three-point heavy offense (11-for-27, 41% from deep).
Maryland had its best three-point shooting performance of the season by far. Four different players knocked down shots from long range as the team finished with a dazzling 61.5% clip from beyond the arc.
For the first time all season, Maryland shot the ball like the AP Top 25 team it was projected to be earlier in the season.
“Love the resiliency of our guys, I thought there there were times when things weren’t going our way,” Manning said. “We got a little bit frustrated, Florida was making plays and we got rattled, but our guys found a way to stay together... and that gave us a chance.”
It took some time, but Maryland’s top shooters came through in the second half to propel the team to a win.
Going into the second half tied at 33 apiece, Maryland needed its top performers to execute in the final 20 minutes, something they haven't been able to do during its three-game losing streak.
Russell and Ayala, the backcourt duo that shot 4-for-9 in the first half, provided a significant amount of offensive life for Maryland early in the second half. Russell and Ayala scored the Terps’ opening 10 points of the second half, going 4-for-5 as they held the 43-32 lead with under 14 minutes to go.
Russell then nailed another three a minute later to keep Maryland in the lead and then drew an offensive foul to give his team back possession. Russell and Ayala posted the only points for Maryland in the second half, 13 total, until Donta Scott scored a short jumper just before the 10-minute mark.
Scott then followed up with a massive bucket and the foul shortly after, giving Maryland a five-point lead.
Russell, Ayala and Scott were three of the Terps’ top-four scorers coming into Sunday. It became clear from that point on that if Maryland’s typical top scorers couldn't get the job done on offense, then Florida would come away with the win.
Russell continued to answer the call in the second half, where Maryland has struggled to close out games, with another three-pointer with around six minutes left. His three threes in the half were the most he’s hit in a single game this season alone, beating his previous high of two.
Ayala went on to drain another layup to put Maryland up 61-58 with Russell drawing a charge on the ensuing defensive possession. The senior guard scored his ninth point of the half with a bucket and a whistle to bring the Terps’ advantage to five.
The experienced guards combined for 25 points in the second half on a crisp 9-for-14 shooting clip.
“Coach Manning has done a lot of competitive shooting drills, you know, getting us ready, shooting game reps and stuff like that,” Ayala said.
And although it may not have been Russell or Ayala that sealed the win, Scott finished the game with a difficult, off-balanced two-point shot to help Maryland to victory with just over 16 seconds left.
If it wasn’t for Russell, Ayala and Scott contributing 32 of the Terps’ 37 second-half points, Maryland might’ve been facing its longest losing streak since the 2004-05 season. With 16 days separating the Terps between their next game, the top scorers will eventually look to carry over their newly found momentum.