Coming out of the halftime break, No. 22 Maryland men’s basketball had a comfortable 11-point lead over Louisville, but the Terps were shooting just 23% from 3-point range.
As the second half got underway, Maryland’s cold streak turned into a red-hot one as the Terps nailed their first five attempts from beyond the arc, two courtesy of senior forward Donta Scott, two from graduate guard Don Carey and one from senior guard Hakim Hart.
The hot shooting extended Maryland’s lead to 20 points, too much for a struggling Louisville group to overcome. Maryland controlled the game from the opening tip and used its early second-half burst to cruise to a 79-54 win over Louisville on Tuesday night in Louisville, Kentucky, in the last ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“I thought in the second half our offensive intensity was really good. I thought we got really good inside out threes,” head coach Kevin Willard said.
Scott had another monster performance with 18 points, while transfer guard Jahmir Young and junior guard Ian Martinez also reached double digits with 15 and 10, respectively.
Having trailed for just over three minutes through its first six games, Maryland once again got out to a fast start.
The Terps immediately picked the Cardinals up in a full-court press, pushing the pace and forcing steals in the backcourt. Through six minutes of action, Maryland got out to a 13-4 lead, seven of those points coming courtesy of Young.
In its first true road test of the season, Maryland took the life out of a team already on life support just a few games into the season. Maryland went on a 13-0 run to extend its lead to 15 halfway through the first half.
Contributions were coming all over for the Terps, a common occurrence for a Maryland starting unit that looks like it’s played together for years. But in the early going of Tuesday’s contest, the bench chipped in too. Martinez drilled a corner three in the midst of the Terps’ run.
Maryland’s inside-out offense and unselfishness was on display yet again, but it struggled to knock down threes at a consistent rate, even when it got wide-open looks.
As Louisville settled in, it cut into Maryland’s deficit, bringing it to single digits with six minutes to go in the first half, forcing Willard to call a timeout.
One of Louisville’s primary weaknesses — even though there are many — is its carelessness with the basketball and being a turnover-prone group. Maryland exploited that with its press and aggressive defense, forcing Louisville into eight first-half turnovers and 14% shooting from long range.
Despite a couple of Louisville pushes, Maryland had complete control for the entire opening 20 minutes, entering the halftime break with a 37-26. Scott and Young combined for 23 in the first half.
“That was the best game he’s played so far for us,” Willard said about Young. “I think he’s starting to understand his role as a point guard.”
Louisville is a familiar site for Maryland’s head coach. Willard was an assistant coach at Louisville from 2001-07 under Rick Pitino before he moved onto a head coach position at Iona.
While the venue was familiar for Willard, a face on the opposing sideline was a familiar one for many of Maryland’s players. Danny Manning, Maryland’s interim head coach last season after it parted ways with Mark Turgeon, is now an assistant coach for Louisville. He coached many of Maryland’s returners, including Scott, Hart and Julian Reese, among others.
His familiarity with the Terps’ stars didn’t seem to help Louisville, though. Hart and Scott each drilled threes early in the second half to spark a 6-0 Maryland run and extend its lead to 18 just minutes into the latter period.
After shooting woes in the first half prevented a larger lead, Maryland nailed six of its first eight attempts in the second half to blow the game out of reach for Louisville. By the time the halfway mark rolled around in the second half, Maryland had a 24-point lead.
Maryland had key contributors on its bench, including Martinez and graduate forward Patrick Emilien, who did not play last game due to injury but had six points on Tuesday.
Maryland had the 20th-best scoring margin in the country entering Tuesday night, beating teams by an average of 21.3 points per game. With a 25-point win, that mark was inflated to 21.9 points per game.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” Willard said. “They’re working extremely hard, they have a great attitude, they’re fun to coach, they're fun to watch play ... to get this done in eight months is great but we still have a tough, tough four months ahead of us.”
Maryland’s now turns its attention to No. 16 Illinois, who is headed to College Park Friday night to open Big Ten play in a ranked matchup.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s phenomenal 3-point defense continued. While Louisville isn't exactly a strong shooting bunch and is more known for its size and physical presence, Maryland continued its impressive showing defending the three. Louisville shot 25% from 3-point range and made just four threes on the night. Coming into Tuesday night, Maryland was holding teams to 26.3% shooting from deep, good for the 30th-best mark in the country.
2. This was the last ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Maryland is the only school in the country to compete on both sides of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, as it represented the ACC prior to moving to the Big Ten in 2014. Since it joined the Big Ten, Maryland has just a 2-7 record in the challenge, but that won’t matter anymore as the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will be dismantled following the season because of a media rights deal that won’t broadcast Big Ten games on ESPN properties. The SEC will replace the Big Ten in the event.
3. Maryland now turns its attention to its toughest test of the season on Friday. Kevin Willard is the first Maryland coach to start 7-0 in his tenure, and while the Terps’ start has been both impressive and surprising, Maryland has its toughest test of the season this Friday when No. 16 Illinois comes to College Park to open Big Ten play for the Terps. It should be an electric atmosphere for a top-25 matchup. Maryland has maybe its toughest stretch of the season in the coming weeks. After Illinois, Maryland plays Wisconsin, Tennessee and UCLA, a four-game stretch that will tell everyone a lot about this Maryland group.