Maryland men’s basketball was pulling away from Nebraska with a 68-54 lead in the second half. The Terps were in the middle of a 14-2 run when guard Ian Martinez came away with the steal and an open court to work with.
Martinez leaped up, cocked the ball back and hammered home a windmill dunk that got the Maryland bench and the small Maryland contingent in Lincoln, Nebraska out of their seats in excitement.
It wasn't the defining play with over 10 minutes still to go, but it was the exclamation point on a dominating performance for the Terps.
Maryland ultimately defeated Nebraska, 90-74, with a monster second half on Friday night, snapping its five-game losing streak with its fourth conference win of the season.
“We had a lot of guys score the ball for us, which is always good,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “But I think our bigs set the tone early.”
The Terps dominated inside all night, outscoring Nebraska 46-28 in the paint. But it was point guard Fatts Russell who put together another assertive performance in his second straight 20-plus point game. Russell finished with 23 points, while six Terps scored in double figures.
“I just feel like I’m being more aggressive offensively,” Russell said. “Me and coach Manning have been talking a lot and he felt like I needed to be more aggressive, so that’s what I've been doing.”
The lull of a Friday night Big Ten matchup didn't start out exactly the way schedulers expected it to. While both teams struggled to make perimeter shots, the last place and third to last-place teams in the Big Ten played at a fast pace through the early going.
Nebraska took an early lead, but Maryland hung around with two big dunks from center Qudus Wahab. The Huskers got quality looks at the basket and had some success scoring the basketball against an inconsistent Terps defense.
However, Maryland hung around with contributions coming from all over. Eric Ayala — who didn't play in Maryland’s last game against Purdue and was a game-time decision coming into Friday night — came off the bench against Nebraska and entered the game for the first time around the 15-minute mark.
After Maryland went down early, the Terps made an effort to get inside looks and rely less on the 3-pointer that was rarely falling for the Terps.
That inside presence was established with freshman Julian Reese, who came off the bench and put together one of his best games of the year. Reese came in and scored 11 points in his first six minutes on the floor, going 5-for-5 from the free-throw line and even knocking down a baseline jumper.
Maryland took its first lead of the night at 21-19 off a slick pass from Ayala to Reese, who banked in a layup.
Unlike most Big Ten opponents, Nebraska lacks adequate size. So, it was certainly a possibility Maryland, particularly Reese, could take advantage of that. He certainly did, finishing with a career-high 13 points.
The Terps and Huskers traded runs as the first half unfolded, resulting in an even match between two teams in the basement of the Big Ten.
Free throws were a big factor for both teams in the first frame. They were a combined 27 free throws attempted through the first 20 minutes. Although Maryland was 1-for-9 from three in the first half, they dominated the paint and were effective at drawing fouls.
Nebraska’s freshman star Bryce McGowens — who was named Big Ten freshman of the week last week — carried the Huskers and kept them in the game throughout the first half. He finished the first half with 11 points and had 13 for the game.
At the break, Maryland led 42-40.
Maryland opened the second half with a statement, exploding on a 12-3 run in an attempt to separate from a frisky road opponent in a loud atmosphere in Lincoln.
The Terps turned it up defensively, limiting the Huskers to just five points through the first four minutes of the second half.
Following a dominant performance against Purdue, Russell put on another show in Lincoln, scoring at a high level to will his team back in the win column.
However, foul trouble limited Russell’s minutes in the second half as he took a seat on the bench after picking up his third foul with 13:20 to go in the second half and Maryland leading by eight.
Russell wasn't the only Terp dealing with foul trouble. Guards Hakim Hart and Xavier Green also had three fouls at that point.
Nebraska tried to make pushes, but it struggled to consistently make shots. For every run Nebraska went on, Maryland had an answer.
Whether it was Martinez’s slam or a high-low action that resulted in a Donta Scott layup, the Terps had their way with the Huskers in the second half, leading to a convincing win.
Nebraska did, however, make a late run to close Maryland’s large lead. The Huskers went on a 12-2 run with under four minutes to go to make it a 10-point game. Both Green and Reese fouled out in the final minutes of the game.
Ultimately, Maryland hung on for a 16-point win.
Three things to know
1. Eric Ayala did not start but still played 24 minutes. Senior guard Eric Ayala was a game-time decision with an apparent wrist injury that sidelined him in Maryland’s game against Purdue last Sunday. There was no indication when the injury occurred, but Manning said Ayala approached him before the Purdue game and said he was feeling discomfort. Against Nebraska, Ayala did not start but played 24 minutes. He didn't exactly look like the Ayala Maryland fans have become accustomed to but he added two points, four assists and five boards.
“He did the little things today and we needed every one of them,” Russell said about Ayala.
2. Maryland has a chance to pick up some more wins in the final stretch of the season. The Terps have just five games remaining on their schedule. But after snapping a five-game losing streak and picking up its fourth Big Ten win this season, the Terps will have an opportunity to climb out of its current position as a 12th seed. Maryland will play Penn State on Monday, who is currently in 10th place and then Minnesota on Mar. 2, who is in 13th place. Maryland also has rematches with Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana on its schedule.
“We’re just trying to find out rhythm, find some type of flow and just build momentum going into the Big 10 tournament,” Russell said.
3. Maryland’s big men took advantage of Nebraska’s lack of size. Manning wants his teams to play through the post and limit the 3-point attempts. Against a Nebraska opponent that lacks size, the Terps did just that. Once again, the three-ball wasn't falling for Maryland but that didn't matter as Reese and Wahab got busy in the paint. In the first half, Maryland outscored Nebraska 24-12 in the paint. Reese finished with 13 points, while Wahab added nine.