Maryland men’s basketball bounced back in a big way Thursday night, defending its home court and beating Michigan, 64-58, in the teams’ second meeting this season. The first time around, Michigan blew Maryland out by 35 points, but the Terps returned home and flipped that result into a much-needed win.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
A different Maryland team showed up than the one from New Year’s Day.
When the Terps and Wolverines first faced off on Jan. 1, the game was essentially over not even halfway through the first half. That was not the case Thursday, as Maryland came out with plenty of energy and not only looked better offensively, but defensively as well.
Maryland employed a 2-3 zone defense early, committing itself to shutting off the interior and daring Michigan to hit outside jumpers. It worked for much of the first half, as the Wolverines struggled to get the ball in to star center Hunter Dickinson and had to settle for 3-pointers, which weren’t falling with consistency. The later stages of the half saw different results, as Michigan finished the first half 6-of-13 from beyond the arc, including two late threes by Dickinson.
Still, the Terps kept the pressure on and forced Michigan into some scoring troubles in the second half that eventually allowed them to build their lead back and get the win. Their constant double-teams of Dickinson — a strategy they didn’t employ much in the first matchup — gave him trouble and forced him to get rid of the ball instead of scoring on his own, and the outside shots stopped falling in the latter 20 minutes of the contest. The Wolverines only made two of their 15 attempts from three in the second half.
“They would go back in their zone — at times they would also throw a man at you — you know, just so happened just in the second half we became really more stagnant. We didn’t attack the zone like how we did in the first half,” Michigan head coach Juwan Howard said.
Whether it’s a lack of travel, an energized home crowd or maybe even things as trivial as familiar rims, Maryland has looked miles better on its home court than away from it, especially in conference play. The Terps are 3-4 in the Big Ten: all four losses came on the road and all three wins came at home. After a road game at No. 3 Purdue on Sunday, the Terps get three consecutive games at home, a real opportunity to continue proving that they belong in the NCAA Tournament come March.
“The coaches emphasized that we just — we needed this one,” graduate guard Jahmir Young said. “We needed momentum going on the road so it was big for us to get this win.”
Jahmir Young is an all-conference-caliber player.
One thing is becoming clearer as Maryland’s season continues and it battles through the grind of Big Ten play: Jahmir Young is the team’s best player.
Young tallied 26 points against Michigan, and they came with ease. Guarded primarily by freshman Dug McDaniel, Young repeatedly breezed past his defender and attacked the rim with persistence. Only one of his nine made field goals wasn’t a layup.
“Just attacking the rim, you know, being aggressive,” Young said. “Just trying to throw the first punch, trying to get our crowd into it. And just finish strong whenever we have the opportunity. We know what it takes to win and we have to take every possession very seriously. So just going off two feet, just trying to finish strong at the rim and get easy ones was a focus for us.”
All of Maryland’s conference wins have featured strong play from Young. In addition to his 26 points Thursday, he scored 24 against Illinois and 30 against Ohio State, also providing a boost on the boards as a uniquely good rebounder for a 6-foot-1 guard.
Through his play, Young has not only proved that he belongs at the high-major level, but also that he is one of the Big Ten’s best point guards. The league has plenty of elite guards that will push for conference and national honors, but Young is no doubt building a strong campaign to be an All-Big Ten selection when the season comes to a close.
“I think he’s playing as good as any player in the country right now and I think he’s gotten comfortable with the length and size he has to go against every night,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said.
Maryland’s big men stepped up.
With graduate forward Patrick Emilien out with an ankle injury, sophomore forward Julian Reese looked like the only frontcourt player on Maryland’s roster that was likely to produce.
But once Reese headed to the bench Thursday, Willard turned to Caelum Swanton-Rodger, a 6-foot-11 Canadian freshman that has been complimented by his head coach as a strong performer in practice and a possible contributor moving forward. The biggest thing missing from his resume was actually producing against high-level competition, which was difficult considering he hadn’t seen much of the court in meaningful games.
That changed against Michigan, as Swanton-Rodger relieved Reese and then some, more than holding his own after being thrown into the fire of Big Ten play — matched up against an All-American center, no less. In seven first-half minutes, he had four points, both of which were tough finishes over Dickinson, the second a dunk that ignited the XFINITY Center crowd and brought the team bench to its feet. He also had three rebounds and a block.
“It was a big moment for me,” Swanton-Rodger said. “I’ve been, you know, limited in my time, but I got an opportunity today and tried my best to make the best of it.”
“He’s progressing nicely,” Willard said of his freshman center. “We’ve talked about it before, it’s hard to get him, you know, get him minutes where he’s gonna get confidence. But, you know, it was a big seven minutes.”
Even though Swanton-Rodger did a good job in his role, Reese was the more dependable big for the Terps and rebounded nicely from a rough showing last time against Michigan, during which he fouled out and allowed Dickinson to go for 32 points and 12 rebounds. On Thursday, Reese not only stayed out of foul trouble, which allowed him to play the whole second half, but also grabbed nine rebounds and did a solid job defending Dickinson, who had a double-double but didn’t take the game over as he has many times throughout his career.
“I think Julian played as good a basketball game as you can against probably one of the best players in the country,” Willard said. “I thought he was physical all night. I thought he stuck to the game plan, he got off the line and battled. He made it tough for Hunter.”
Reese and Swanton-Rodger’s jobs will not soon get easier since they will have to face national player of the year frontrunner Zach Edey and Purdue this weekend, but their showings Thursday were very encouraging for a team thin in the frontcourt.