Coming into Sunday, Maryland men’s basketball’s performance in Big Ten games could be defined by two things: dominance at home and an inability to play close to that level on the road. Naturally, in a road game at Purdue — ranked No. 3 in the AP poll, in first place in the conference and a national championship contender — the Terps, who entered the game 0-4 in Big Ten road games, were heavy underdogs in front of one of the nation’s most intimidating crowds at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Despite going down by as many as 16 points in the first half, the Terps showed remarkable resilience and battled back, holding possession with under 20 seconds to play trailing by only three points. Graduate guard Jahmir Young raced down the court and dished the ball to graduate guard Don Carey in the corner for an attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer, but Carey’s shot — the best chance Maryland would get to even the score — was far off the mark.
The Terps (12-7, 3-5 Big Ten) nearly mounted a monumental comeback but fell to Purdue (19-1, 8-1), 58-55. Maryland went toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s top teams yet failed to overcome a 3-for-21 shooting performance from three.
“If we could figure out how to play our second halves in our first halves we’d be a really good road team. Eventually, if we can figure it out,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said, noting that his team is winless in its five Big Ten games on the road. “But I think the effort was great, you know we had our chances, we had a couple good looks in the second half. I thought both teams — I thought all the kids on both teams played their hearts out. I thought it was a great college game.”
Purdue, which barely held on to avoid being upset at home, relied on junior center and national player of the year favorite Zach Edey, who led all players with 24 points and 16 rebounds, the only Boilermaker to score double-digit points.
Even though he was facing off with Edey, Maryland received a boost from sophomore forward Julian Reese, who went 8-for-11 from the field and had 19 points, his most ever in a Big Ten game.
“I know Zach had monster numbers but, you know, the way [Reese] battled. I think offensively, the way he’s played too has really given us a good boost. I think he’s playing with more offensive confidence,” Willard said.
Edey wreaked havoc early, forcing Reese to pick up two fouls on the same possession while tangling with him, and freshman center Caelum Swanton-Rodger — Reese’s replacement that played well against All-American center Hunter Dickinson in the team’s previous game against Michigan — met a similar fate, picking up multiple fouls in quick succession.
Graduate forward Patrick Emilien made a brief return from an ankle injury that forced him to miss the last two games, but the undersized Terps still struggled to handle the Boilermakers’ talented and deep arsenal of big men.
Purdue entered Sunday as the best rebounding team in the country, averaging over 11 more rebounds per game than its opponents. That trend continued against the Terps, as the Boilermakers controlled the glass. They had 10 more rebounds than Maryland, including eight more defensive boards.
Even with the obvious challenges a matchup with 7-foot-4 Edey presents, Reese — who measures 6-foot-9 — held his own. The physicality that got Reese in foul trouble disrupted Edey’s rhythm and forced him into tough spots.
The Terps’ defense — highlighted by Reese — gave them an opportunity to make inroads into their deficit. The Boilermakers suffered through a first-half field goal drought spanning nearly seven minutes, but Maryland’s offense sputtered too. When Purdue ended the drought with just over two minutes until halftime, its lead was still 15 points — 14 when the half ended with an emphatic put-back dunk by Edey.
The obvious answer for Maryland’s struggles contending with Edey and his frontcourt mates would be to initiate offense from the perimeter, but the Terps’ attempts from outside were consistently off the mark. They shot just 2-of-11 from three in the first half and floundered there in the second as well. Carey, Young and senior forward Donta Scott launched a combined 17 3-pointers and made just two.
Young, who has paced Maryland’s offense in its conference wins and blossomed into its most reliable offensive weapon, also couldn’t get much to fall early. He was held scoreless in the first half, missing all seven of his field goal attempts. After scoring for the first time more than 25 minutes in, he began to come alive in the second half, scoring 10 points in the final 15 minutes of the game.
When the second half began, Maryland’s energy jumped off the charts and it began to mount a comeback. The Terps started the half with a 7-0 run and cut the lead to as little as three on multiple occasions, jumping out in transition with forced turnovers — they forced 15 Sunday, led by Young with three steals — and converting. Senior guard Hakim Hart took advantage with multiple fast-break finishes, scoring nine second-half points after tallying just two in the first.
“I actually thought our defense in the first half was really good, but again, our terrible offense in the first half kind of leads to somewhat bad defense and I think that’s — we scored, we got some dunks, we got some fast break points in the second half, able to set our defense up. And it’s just, we’re a different team when we do that,” Willard said.
The teams went back-and-forth for the remainder of the game, and it was a one-possession contest with under a minute remaining. After Young forced a jump ball following Carey’s miss with only 10 seconds left, Purdue head coach Matt Painter ordered his team to foul Maryland’s players and force them to shoot free throws instead of risking a game-tying shot. The strategy worked, as the only attempt the Terps would get to tie the game from then on was a 35-foot prayer by Young.
“I’m a big picture guy,” Willard said. “To kind of see where we started on the road, where we are [now]. ... I thought we found a way to fight back and that’s what I’m seeing with this basketball team, is they’re kind of getting back to that, what we were early in the season with our fight and with our intensity on the defensive end.”
Three things to know
1. Julian Reese had the most impressive performance of his career. Reese did not back down from the challenge of facing Edey, scoring 19 points — a career best in Big Ten play — on 8-of-11 shooting. Despite playing in foul trouble, Reese never backed down from Edey, showing resolve by taking it to him consistently on the offensive end of the floor. After healing from a shoulder injury suffered in December, his play has steadily improved against the league’s best big men.
2. Maryland’s struggles from 3-point range continued. Maryland is the second worst 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten, a trend that continued against Purdue. The Terps shot 14% from three Sunday. Purdue wasn’t much better at 15%, but Maryland’s poor shooting once again hurt its ability to win.
3. Improvement on the road. Despite the loss, Maryland played its best road conference game this season Sunday. It battled with the nation’s third-ranked team to the final buzzer, a vast improvement from its weak showings in its previous four attempts at Big Ten squads away from College Park. Now, with a stretch of multiple consecutive home games coming up, the Terps will need to focus on continuing to defend their home court.