Maryland men’s basketball will head to Bloomington, Indiana, on Thursday to take on the Hoosiers at 7 p.m. The game is set to air on FS1.
Maryland is riding a two-game winning streak and is just one game back from 10th place in the conference, where it would automatically advance to the second round of the Big Ten tournament.
While those wins were against Nebraska and Penn State, the Terps have been playing much better basketball in the last week, particularly point guard Fatts Russell. Russell is averaging 21.3 points per game on 45.9% shooting from the field while adding 5.3 rebounds and four assists per game in his last four games.
Indiana, on the other hand, hasn't won a game since they played Maryland for the first time back on Jan. 29, dropping five straight.
What happened last time
The first time these teams met earlier this season on Jan. 29 Indiana was making a push for an NCAA Tournament bid and it was becoming clearer Maryland’s season was on the decline.
The Terps kept it close for much of the first half, but Indiana used a 13-0 run late in the first half into the second half to gain a sizable advantage. The Hoosiers continued to control Maryland and dictate the flow of the game in the second half on Maryland’s home floor in College Park.
At one point with six minutes left in the second half, Maryland trailed by 17. The Terps came up short in their comeback attempt in the final minutes but eventually fell to the Hoosiers 68-55.
Guard Hakim Hart had one of his best games of the season against Indiana, finishing with 15 points. Big man Qudus Wahab had 12 points and eight rebounds. Leading scorer Eric Ayala struggled against Indiana, finishing with just six points in the Terps’ loss in which they tied their season-low in points with 55.
Maryland’s defense had a difficult time containing Indiana star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. Jackson-Davis had 17 points and nine rebounds in the Hoosiers’ win.
“If we make a couple shots, it'll help us,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “We didn't make any shots and we have to give them credit defensively, but we struggled from the field.”
What’s happened since
Both teams spiraled downhill since they met the first time, but no team has been through a more difficult stretch than Indiana. The Hoosiers have lost five straight with their last win coming in College Park against Maryland. Indiana head coach Mike Woodson suspended multiple players for undisclosed disciplinary reasons and has challenged his players publicly on multiple occasions during the losing streak.
Indiana was once a promising team that seemed to be a sure-fire tournament team, but now it finds itself on the outside of the bubble.
It looked like Indiana would snap its losing streak in its last game against Ohio State on Monday. Indiana had the lead with under a minute to go, but Ohio State was able to force overtime and pull away in the extra period.
Indiana can't get any more desperate than it is right now and will certainly give Maryland everything it has on its home court Thursday night.
Maryland’s loss to Indiana in late January was the first of a five-game losing streak. However, the Terps have won two straight against teams towards the bottom of the Big Ten in Nebraska and Penn State.
“I think it’s more just the power of urgency, right,” Manning said of his team's recent performances. “We know it’s dwindling down. We know we only have a handful of games left.”
Three things to watch
1. How will Maryland’s backcourt, particularly Eric Ayala, perform? Fatts Russell has been playing terrific basketball for Maryland in recent games. He gives 100% on every possession and has done whatever possible to get his team a win over the last couple of weeks, resulting in notable offensive performances. It’s fair to expect Russell to carry the offense the rest of the season, but his backcourt partner Eric Ayala is more of a question mark. Ayala missed the Purdue game over 10 days ago but has played the two games since. While the senior guard’s minutes have been limited, he put together a solid performance in Maryland’s last game against Penn State with three threes and 13 points. If he can get back to playing a lot of minutes at a high level, Maryland may be able to pull off some upset wins in the final games of the season.
2. Will Ian Martinez continue his impressive play? Transfer guard Ian Martinez struggled at the beginning of the season, particularly in Big Ten play. His poor play prompted interim Manning to bench him and give him zero minutes in multiple games. However, an opportunity opened up with Maryland’s guards banged up and Martinez has made the most of it. He is averaging 7.5 points per game in his last four games, a substantial increase from his season average of 3.3 points per game. If Martinez can continue to provide production on both ends of the floor off the bench, the Terps will be better off.
“It feel great, you know, to contribute to the team,” Martinez said. “Whether it is points or passing the ball or playing defense, I really like bringing that energy and just getting the team going.”
3. Can Maryland contain Trayce Jackson-Davis? Maryland has had a difficult time stopping opposing teams' star players this season, particularly big men. That was certainly the case the first time Maryland saw Indiana’s big man Trayce Jackson-Davis. While Jackson-Davis didn't have an otherworldly performance, he got whatever look he wanted against Maryland, finishing with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting. If the Terps want to avenge their earlier season loss, it will start with limiting Jackson-Davis.