Maryland men’s basketball headed into Louisville, Kentucky, and absolutely smacked the Cardinals on Tuesday, winning, 79-54.
The win marked Maryland’s last outing in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which will effectively end after this season. The Terps finished just 2-7 in the annual competition as a Big Ten opponent but ended on a high note.
On the court, it was business as usual for Maryland. Kevin Willard is not only the first Maryland head coach to ever start 7-0, but his squad is blowing teams out on a nightly basis.
Let’s dive into the takeaways from the Terps’ seventh victory of the season.
Following a rare off night, the Donta Scott show continued.
Scott’s progression from this season to last has been well-documented. His head coach says that he has lost 27 pounds and 9% body fat, which has produced a noticeable difference in his game. Just check the film.
Scott has become a force on the defensive end, sticking to his defender like white on rice and closing out on threes at a much better rate.
Offensively, Scott has evolved into a true three-level scorer. He came into the game shooting 41.7% from three, and Tuesday’s 3-of-6 3-point shooting performance will not hurt that.
Scott has become a complete mismatch inside the arc too. His turnaround jumper over his shoulder has become a patented move, and he is constantly taking defenders to the rim with ease.
Willard expects Scott to be a First Team All-Big Ten player, and he is in prime shape to do so heading into conference play. Through seven games, he is averaging 15.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting 51.2% from the field and 43.3% from three.
“I think he’s getting used to me and getting used to what I want for him, and I think he’s getting used to the offense. I think they all are,” Willard said of Scott. “Again, this a whole new system. So I think he’s playing it at a really good pace, and he’s playing with a lot of confidence, the way he should be, because he’s worked really hard and he’s an all first-team Big Ten player, and he’s playing like that.”
Maryland’s 3-point shooting seems to be either hot or cold. When it’s hot, watch out.
Coming into Tuesday’s game, Maryland ranked 280th in Division I with a 30.8% clip from deep.
Yes, the Terps dominated Louisville in their seventh game of the season, but they didn’t set the tone against the Cardinals from the 3-point line from the jump. Maryland held an 11-point halftime lead in spite of only shooting 23% (3-for-13) from beyond the arc.
“What’s kind of bogged down our offense a little bit in the first half is I think we’ve come out a little bit too casual on the offensive end,” Willard said. “We’re playing really hard on the defensive end, and we’re getting open looks and we’re just kind of not playing offense with the same intensity as defense.”
Maryland finished the game with a 37.5% mark from 3-point range, though, thanks to a 6-of-11 barrage from deep in the second half. A performance like that brings a completely different element to a team that excels in so many other aspects of the game.
“I thought in the second half our offensive intensity was really good,” Willard added. “I thought we got really good inside-out threes, but I thought we were a little bit more focused on the offensive end.”
If Maryland is to become an above-average 3-point shooting team, it needs Don Carey to get going. Willard has called Carey a “sniper,” but he has also been hot and cold, coming into the game with a 25.6% 3-point percentage. Carey got going in the second frame, nailing two threes after going 0-for-2 in the first half.
In three of its first six games, Maryland shot over 40% from three; those three games include its two most important games of the early slate against Miami and Saint Louis at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Uncasville, Connecticut. In Maryland’s other three previous contests, including three of four home games, the Terps did not shoot more than 20% on 3-pointers in a single game.
Basically, the conclusion on whether these Terps can be a good 3-point shooting team is inconclusive. They’re either scorching hot or piercing cold, and there has yet to be an in-between.
Despite the rollercoaster ride from 3-point range, Maryland is winning ballgames, which is all that matters. As the Terps enter Big Ten play, 3-point shooting will need to become more of a consistent factor.
The Terps are in a different weight class than Louisville and avoided a trap game loss.
The facts are simple: Maryland is 7-0 and Louisville is 0-7. Despite closing as 13-point favorites, a first true road game could serve as a challenge for any team.
But the Terps answered the call with ease against the Cardinals, clearly showing they are a level above Tuesday night’s foe.
At times, Louisville looked more like a collection of players than a team. The Cardinals had careless turnovers, bad shots and a general sense of lackadaisicalness in the first half. Maryland, on the other hand, continued to bring its elite level of intensity it has portrayed all season long — see Julian Reese’s offensive rebound save that led to a Jahmir Young layup in the first half.
Willard deserves immense credit, as his team seems to never take any plays off.
“I think, again, our defensive intensity. I think Julian Reese has been playing so physical down low. Those guys have gotten us off to great starts,” Willard said.
Now, Maryland will head into a four-game gauntlet at 7-0. Friday’s game against No. 16 Illinois should be Maryland’s biggest home game since the 2019-20 season. Then, the Terps will travel to Wisconsin, which is receiving votes in the AP poll. After that, the Terps will play No. 13 Tennessee at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and host No. 21 UCLA.
A lot more answers about this team will arise in the coming weeks, but this start is certainly hard to not enjoy. Maryland has beat every one of its opponents by at least 16 points, and it hasn’t even trailed for more than four minutes total.
“It’s been great. I’m sure it’s not gonna last,” Willard said of the team’s strong starts. “So I’ve enjoyed it while it’s lasted. It’s great when you’re a coach and you look up and you’re up 25, so I’m not gonna lie to you.”