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Three takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball’s thrilling win over Northwestern

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The Terps got a lot out of their top-four scorers, but not much production elsewhere.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland men’s basketball has claimed its first victory in Big Ten play after taking down Northwestern by seven points on the road Wednesday night.

The Terps let the game go into overtime and then a second overtime period after relinquishing a late lead in regulation, but they ultimately pulled out the win.

“We stayed the course, we though next play and we found a way to get a road win... get a win in the Big Ten which is especially hard to do on the road,” interim head coach Danny Manning said.

Here are three takeaways from one of Maryland’s most hectic games of the season.

Defense, but mostly inefficiency reigned supreme in the first half.

With both teams coming into Wednesday night’s matchup on three-game losing streaks, neither side looked confident from the get-go. There were turnovers and overall sloppiness from each team on the offensive end of the floor.

Northwestern took an early 8-2 lead and then Maryland started off with a typical 1-for-5 shooting start. Maryland had the first two turnovers for the game and once again visibly struggled to create many open shots, collecting just five points by the 13:16 mark of the half. That led to even more contested shots in a game where there was an extremely slow pace to the scoring.

Maryland’s shooting continued to take a dive with it connecting on two of its first nine attempts and then just a 5-for-17 clip at the eight-minute mark. This inefficient first half came after the Terps went down 29-8 at one point in the opening half against No. 23 Wisconsin the other night.

Northwestern, though, also got cold in the first half with its shooting and the game remained a fairly tight contest simply because neither side could heat up. The Wildcats hit just four of 13 attempts to kick off the contest.

The poor shooting trend progressed over the course of the first 20 minutes. By the 11-minute mark, both teams were connecting on just 27% of their field goal attempts.

The pace picked up in the final five or so minutes of the first half with each team barely cracking the 20-point mark, which otherwise salvaged a very slow start in a game where both teams were desperate for a conference win. A couple of three-pointers from Maryland and Northwestern breathed some into the game after there were a combined seven turnovers and plenty of fouls.

Still, each side finished with under 38% shooting from the floor and a 32% clip from deep in the first half. Each team committed four total turnovers after the first half concluded.

Specifically looking at Maryland, this start looked somewhat similar to the one it had against Wisconsin in which it put up just 26 points at the end of the half. Outside of guards Hakim Hart and Eric Ayala’s 20 combined points, the Terps shot just 4-for-17.

The 30 points after 20 minutes were the sixth-lowest the Terps have scored in a first half all season through 16 games.

Eric Ayala and Hakim Hart led the scoring charge early on, but Maryland didn’t get enough consistent depth scoring the rest of the way despite the win.

In a fairly low-scoring first half, the two standouts for Maryland were senior guard Eric Ayala and junior guard Hakim Hart.

Ayala, who finished the Wisconsin game with 19 second-half points after going scoreless in the first half, had a similar 0-3 start in this one but soon regained his scoring touch. The senior gave Maryland a lead in the first half with a 7-0 run — with all seven points coming from him — which included a four-point play from the corner.

“Eric is one of the older players on our team, and tonight he has his first double-double of his career,” Manning said. “He’s made some shots for us recently, shooting the ball very well from three, I think coming into this game he was around 50% from three. Made some big shots for us, got to the free throw line, 11 rebounds. That was huge for us, especially because we were in foul trouble a good portion of the night.”

He hit a late three in the first half giving him the team-high with 10 points, the same amount that Hart scored in the half. Averaging 12.4 points over his last eight games entering the matchup, Hart drained an early three, scored Maryland’s first seven of 11 points and ended the half on 4-for-6 shooting.

That duo’s contributions totaled 66% of Maryland’s first-half point total. Ayala finished with a career-high 26 points and Hart ended up with 18 after 50 minutes of basketball.

But, when one part of Maryland’s roster steps up, there always seems to be something to neutralize their efforts. In this case, it was mostly everyone outside Ayala and Hart in the first. As previously mentioned, outside of Ayala and Hart, everyone else on the Maryland roster shot 23.5% from the field in the first half. But there was a slight shift in the scoring in the second half from the Terps’ side.

Junior forward Donta Scott and transfer point guard Fatts Russell provided the bulk of the scoring early on in the second half. Each player hit a three to help give Maryland the lead. Scott and Russell combined to score Maryland’s first 11 points of the first half, a major turnaround from the duo’s six-point first-half effort.

However, Maryland then hit a huge scoring lull, allowing Northwestern to even take a 51-50 lead with about eight and a half minutes left. Maryland’s shooters just couldn’t seem to get anything to fall. Ayala then hit back-to-back big three-pointers to give the Terps a five-point lead.

Northwestern still was able to hold a lead with around five minutes to go, but four-straight points from Scott put Maryland back in front and then Ayala sank his fifth three of the day, followed by a strong layup inside with a foul to help secure the lead.

The game magically went to overtime and then double overtime, where Maryland finally closed out the Wildcats.

But outside of Ayala, Hart, Scott and Russell’s combined 84 points, there were struggles just about everywhere else. Center Qudus Wahab and forward Julian Reese had only four points and two points, respectively, in what was another disappointing game from the big men yet again. Xavier Green, who scored 10 against the Badgers finished with four points.

The starters got the job done in a thrilling game, but Maryland still needs more out of its full lineup. We have yet to see an important game where all players for the Terps are clicking on all cylinders, especially Maryland’s two top big men on offense.

Maryland avoids what was almost its biggest and most painful collapse yet.

Maryland held leads against Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. All of those resulted in losses.

The story of Maryland’s play through four conference games had been its inability to finish off the job in the second half of games after starting off slow. The slow start may have held true this time around, but after a last-minute push in regulation from Northwestern, Maryland was very close to collapsing yet again.

The Terps were up 72-66 and then the Wildcats nailed a three. One turnover and a Scott flagrant foul sent the game to overtime at 72 apiece.

“Some stuff you can’t control, I mean it was... them last couple of seconds was very unique, I haven’t been through nothing like that... I don’t even wanna talk about it man it was crazy that last few seconds,” Ayala said. “I had my first double-overtime game in college, I’m tired.”

With a six-point lead, it felt as though Maryland had the game locked up. Yet, Northwestern found a way to even up the score.

“We could have handled some things better, but you got to give Northwestern credit too,” Manning said about the end of regulation. “I mean, they got guys on scholarship as well... and well-coached so they made some plays.”

Then the contest tricked into double overtime, where Maryland sealed the game for its first Big Ten win of the season, helping it avoid a huge collapse.

The Terps were 0-4 in conference play coming into the matchup, including a six-point loss to Northwestern back on Dec. 5, two days after former head coach Mark Turgeon and the University of Maryland mutually agreed to part ways. The win is the first victory in Big Ten play under Manning, but this team still has ways to go.

The win also snapped Maryland’s three-game losing streak and it allows the program to live another day with an above .500 record.

“...Today I felt like we fought all the way to the end... hopefully we could just find our niche and learn from this and just keep going,” Russell said.

Up next for Maryland is another beatable Big Ten team in Rutgers, that just got defeated by Penn State by a margin of 17. That matchup will be on Saturday.

It’ll be interesting to see if Maryland can continue taking down teams to rise in the ranks of the conference, and the victory over Northwestern was a start.