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Maryland men’s basketball vs. Penn State preview

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The Terps will look to pick up their second consecutive win when they return to the Xfinity Center.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland men’s basketball will return home to the Xfinity Center to face Penn State.

The Terps most recently snapped their five-game losing streak and picked up its first win in February with a win over Nebraska on the road. Maryland is now 12-14 and 4-11 in conference play heading into the final five matchups before the Big Ten tournament set for March.

Now, the Terps will welcome the Nittany Lions to College Park, Maryland, as they search for their fifth conference win.

The game will air Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

Penn State (11-12, 6-9 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 11-14, 7-12

Head coach Micah Shrewsberry is in his first season at the helm of the Nittany Lions’ program. Before arriving at Penn State, Shrewsberry most recently worked as an associate head coach at Purdue from 2019-21. Before that, the head coach spent time from 2013-19 as an NBA assistant coach for the Boston Celtics.

This season, the Nittany Lions sit with a record one game below .500 but have recently picked up two consecutive wins. After dropping three games in a row— a close game with then-No. 11 Wisconsin and losses to Michigan and Minnesota— Penn State took down then-No. 19 Michigan State and defeated the Golden Gophers in a rematch.

Players to know

Jalen Pickett, senior guard, 6-foot-4, No. 22 — Pickett is one of just two players to have started in all 23 of the games he has made an appearance in this season. The Nittany Lions picked him up in the transfer portal from Siena during the offseason and he’s made an immediate impact. Pickett leads the team in scoring averaging 13 points per game and has a team-high 93 total assists, an average of about four per game. Defensively, Pickett also makes an impact. He has 23 steals which rank second on the team and also has the team-leading 14 blocks. Pickett’s season-high came against Ohio State in which he scored 23 points.

“We’ve got our hands full,” interim head coach Danny Manning said about Pickett ahead of the game. “We have to do a really good job of making sure we contested his shots and do the best we can as far as standing in front of him.”

John Harrar, fifth year forward, 6-foot-9, No. 21 — Harrar is the only other Nittany Lion to start in all 23 games this season. He is nearly averaging a double-double with 10.5 points per game and 9.7 rebounds. He has eight double-doubles this season and has two in a row after putting up 16 points and 16 rebounds against then-No. 19 Michigan State and 10 points and 10 boards against Minnesota. Harrar is currently averaging his career best in scoring as last season he finished the season averaging a career-high 9.4 points per game. Harrar leads the team with his 64.6 field goal percentage having made 93 of his 144 attempted shots from the field going into the matchup against Maryland.

Seth Lundy, junior forward, 6-foot-6, No. 1 — Lundy has started in every game he’s appeared but missed the Ohio State matchup for undisclosed reasons. The junior ranks second in scoring behind Pickett with 12.6 points per game and he shoots a 41.5% clip from the field and 36.8% from deep. He leads the team with an average of 2.3 3-point shots per game for a total of 50 across 22 games. He has 21 steals and 13 blocks on the season.

Strength

Defense. Despite sitting toward the bottom portion of the Big Ten standings, the Nittany Lions play relatively strong defense compared to the rest of the conference. Their defense ranks third in the conference holding opponents to just 64.7 points per game behind just Rutgers (64.6) and Indiana (64.2). Penn State also ranks in the top-five in the conference for defensive rebounding averaging 26.7 per game. In the conference, Penn State has held Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota below their respective team’s scoring average in its sole matchup with the team or at least in one of the two meetings.

Weakness

Playing on the road. Penn State has won just two games away from its home arena and just one in a true road environment. The sole road win came at Northwestern on Jan. 5. The Nittany Lions squeaked by the Wildcats with a four-point victory but other than that have not found a way to win on the road this season. Maryland is 7-8 at home this season and although that is not the same kind of success the Terps have had at home as they have in previous seasons, it may give them the edge in this matchup.

Three things to watch

1. What will Eric Ayala’s playing time look like? After not playing against then-No. 3 Purdue due to a wrist injury, Ayala was considered a game-time decision for Nebraska and although he did not start, he did play. The senior guard was on the court for 24 minutes and despite not shooting as strongly as he has in other performances, he made an impact. Adding two points, five rebounds and four assists, beyond Ayala’s stat line, his leadership on the court was felt by his team.

“Obviously, it was good to have him out on the court the other night,” Manning said. “Especially down the stretch to have his leadership and experience to handle the pressure.”

2. How will Julian Reese and Ian Martinez influence the game? Reese and Martinez average the fifth and sixth most playing time, respectively, after the players who have started in 24 or more matchups. Against Nebraska, both showed the kind of potential they have to make a big impact. Reese finished the game with a career-high 13 points while shooting 4-for-6 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line and also grabbed three rebounds in 17 minutes. Reese did however get himself into foul trouble, picked up a technical foul and eventually fouled out of the game.

Martinez has made more of an impact as of late. Against Iowa, he scored 12 points while shooting 4-for-6 from the field and a perfect 2-for-2 from both 3-point range and the free-throw line. Against Nebraska, he had 10 points, including an emphatic windmill dunk, three boards, three assists and a team-high four steals. It’s clear both of these players have the ability to positively impact the game when they kick it into full gear and they have five more regular season games to show what they can do.

“Ian’s athleticism really helped us out,” Manning said. “And you know we’ll continue to need those types of contributions from him. But the way he played against Nebraska is the Ian that we all want to continue to see and hopefully we will as we continue to move forward the rest of this Big Ten slate.”

3. Can the Terps make it two in a row? Maryland has collected consecutive wins against Big Ten opponents just once this season. The Terps defeated then-No. 17 Illinois at home before taking down Rutgers on the road in late January. Both of those matchups were the second time the Terps met those respective teams. However, other than that, Maryland has not strung together back-to-back conference wins. The opportunity presents itself Monday night as Maryland is coming off two strong performances in the close game against Purdue and the win over Nebraska.