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Maryland men’s basketball’s strong second half powers it past Penn State, 67-61

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Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell combined for 28 points in the second half.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

With graduate guard Fatts Russell and senior guard Eric Ayala having quite the second-half revival, all junior guard Hakim Hart needed to do was to make a layup to make Xfinity Center erupt.

Hart intercepted a careless pass that was headed for the top of the arc and then he was off to the races. The guard made his way toward the basket and embraced some contact en route to an and-one layup, which sent Maryland’s sea of red shirts into its biggest frenzy of the game. Hart’s layup and eventual free throw capped off Maryland’s 7-0 run and gave it a 54-42 lead with under nine minutes left.

The minute and a half run from the Terps was enough to put away Penn State for good, as Maryland held on for the 67-61 win on Monday night in College Park.

“Extremely happy for our guys... that’s two straight wins, playing a really talented and really tough Penn State team,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “We knew it was gonna be a challenge, proud of the way our guys responded.”

The win gave Maryland its second consecutive win and its fifth conference victory overall, moving it just one Big Ten win behind Penn State in the conference standings. Maryland now has a 13-14 overall record with just four games left before the Big Ten tournament.

Maryland was led by Russell and Ayala, a duo that combined for 28 second-half points after the team’s top scorers exhibited a subpar first half. The Terps had four players score at least eight points in their eighth home victory of the season.

Looking for its second straight Big Ten win for just the second time this season, Maryland seemed fairly poised early on after giving up the first basket of the game.

Reminiscent of the first few games of the year, it was junior Qudus Wahab that provided the scoring spark for Maryland. First, it was a two-handed slam on a beautiful inside feed from Russell, but then Wahab kept the offense chugging in the paint. The center scored seven of Maryland’s first 11 points on 3-for-4 shooting as the Terps maintained an 11-5 lead just a few minutes in.

A borderline whistle-less eight minutes saw Maryland grab three offensive rebounds, while interim head coach Danny Manning’s consistent message of getting points from the painted area was visibly absorbed by his players.

Penn State couldn't stop Maryland in the paint. Junior forward Donta Scott made a smooth pump fake, resulting in an easy bucket for the Terps’ eighth paint point, while Penn State was stuck with just two points in the paint all the way up until the 6:42 mark in the first half.

Maryland held a 15-9 lead, though the Nittany Lions roared back within one.

The Terps, however, found junior guard Hakim Hart splashed home the Terps’ first three, the team’s first make in five attempts up to that point, then freshman forward Julian Reese mimicked Hart with a triple of his own to make it 21-17 in favor of the hosts with under eight minutes left in the opening half.

Maryland’s offense stalled for four minutes in the midst of a 6-0 run from the Nittany Lions, while some of the team’s top guards struggled. Ayala, who has been dealing with a wrist injury that kept him out of the Purdue game and limited the Terps’ top-scorer to two points in the road win over Nebraska, scored his first basket in the form of a 3-pointer to put Maryland up 24-23.

That was the senior’s first 3-point make since the Terps’ loss to Iowa back on Feb. 10.

The low-scoring half began to slowly shift into Penn State’s favor after its six-point run from earlier. It rattled off another five points in a row to give it a four-point lead, boosting its previously poor shooting percentage to a clip that was higher than Maryland’s.

Sophomore guard Ian Martinez provided a little jump to Maryland’s jog into the locker room heading into the break. Martinez poked the ball away on Penn State’s final possession of the half and successfully drove for the game-tying layup to bring the score to 28 apiece. Hart, Scott and Wahab combined to score 20 of Maryland’s 28 first-half points.

Maryland was stifled in the opening two minutes of the second half, but Russell finally got the Terps on the board with a clean jumper, his first points of the evening. Russell came right back a few possessions later and brought it to the hoop himself for his second made field goal, using his typical lightning-quick footwork in the process.

The third act came just after the media timeout when the guard bursted to the basket again and eventually drew the foul and sunk the left-handed layup while falling to give Maryland the 35-34 lead.

Russell’s abrupt second-half revival soon brought along Ayala’s road to offensive recovery as well.

Ayala drilled a 3-pointer to the delight of the crowd, stretching the Terps’ lead to a game-high seven points with a 46-39 score. Penn State was forced to immediately halt the momentum the Terps’ top-two scorers gave them with around 13 minutes remaining.

Another jumper was added to Ayala’s resumé soon after and the Terps’ top-point getter forced his way into a rhythm. His 11th point was all of a sudden a team-high after he managed just three first-half points. Another Ayala layup, giving him 4-for-5 shooting in the second half with under 10 minutes left, allowed Maryland to maintain its 50-42 advantage.

Penn State made a desperate charge back into the game with the clock starting to dwindle, but the home side wouldn’t allow it. The Terps kept a good distance between themselves and their opponent, holding a 10-point lead backed by an offensive resurgence.

Maryland had already doubled its first-half offensive performance of 28 points by the 6:54 mark. Though, the Nittany Lions clawed back to within six points with just over three minutes left after Maryland found itself on a three-minute scoring drought.

Penn State reeled the game back to 60-56 in Maryland’s favor with under a minute left, but free throws helped the Terps seal the win.

Three things to know

1. Fatts Russell and Eric Ayala were held in check offensively, until the second half. Russell and Ayala were the only two Terps coming into Monday’s game averaging over 14 points per game. However, Penn State silenced the backcourt duo all the way up until the 4:30 mark of the opening 20 minutes, when Ayala drained a three. The team’s top two guards combined for just three points in the first half. However, they started to revert back to the norm in the second half. Russell finished with 18 after going scoreless in the first half and Ayala put up 13 points. Russell’s three straight game streak of 20-plus points was snapped.

“I had to be aggressive,” Russell said. “You know, I felt like the team, we were down a little bit because we felt like we should have been up more at halftime and the game was tied. I just came out there, tried make some energy plays and tried to just be aggressive on the offensive end for myself and others.”

2. Free throws were not in abundance. Manning consistently prioritizes points in the paint and getting into the bonus early, and though the Terps were certainly aggressive early on, both teams were held with very few free throw attempts over the course of 40 minutes of play. The first half was a quiet one regarding the scoring and both sides combined for just three attempts from the charity stripe. When the buzzer sounded, there were just 18 free throws made on 24 attempts from each side combined. Penn State finished with just a total of five attempts from the free-throw line.

3. Maryland pushes its winning streak to two for the first time in a long time. With the victories over Nebraska and Penn State, the Terps have their first two-game winning streak in the Big Ten since it had back-to-back wins over then-No. 17 Illinois and Rutgers back in the latter half of January. It may not be much, but this is the most momentum the Terps have had in some time, considering they were just in the midst of a five-game losing streak before taking down the Cornhuskers on the road. Maryland will have a chance to improve its winning streak to three on Thursday at Indiana.

“It’s always exciting to win,” Scott said about the team's two-game winning streak. “A lot of the guys are just really excited... and these last couple of games we’ve been winning. It’s just really exciting.”