Leading by 10 at halftime, Maryland men’s basketball was one more run away from leaving no doubt against Nebraska.
Though it took more than three minutes for the Terps to put numbers on the scoreboard in the second half, a flurry prevailed once they broke through.
Graduate guard Don Carey hit his third three of the game, graduate guard Jahmir Young scored four straight points, and graduate forward Patrick Emilien drilled a mid-range jumper. The scoring stretch was punctuated by a screeching finish, as Young tossed up a lob. From just in front of the Big Ten logo, senior forward Donta Scott accelerated, rising high above the hoop, sending the ball through the net and hanging onto the rim for good measure.
An 11-4 run quickly tuned Maryland’s lead to 15 points, forcing Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg to burn a timeout with 15:18 to play. The sequence epitomized one of Maryland’s most balanced offensive showings yet, igniting the XFINITY Center crowd and giving the Terps enough cushion to seal the deal at home.
Maryland ultimately won 82-63, improving to 5-5 in the Big Ten and securing its second consecutive victory.
“Give Kevin [Willard] a lot of credit for getting this thing where it is right now, because they’re playing their best basketball of the season,” Fred Hoiberg said.
The Terps limped out of the gate, missing three of their first four shots and finding themselves down five. Nebraska’s leading scorer, 6-foot-9 senior forward Derrick Walker, took advantage of his matchup with Maryland sophomore forward Julian Reese early, hitting four of his first five looks for eight early points.
Though Maryland looked lethargic to start the game, a ferocious dunk by Reese ignited the team and the crowd. Reese’s slam was the spark for a 10-0 run, snapping a sluggish look and turning Maryland’s multi-possession deficit into an 18-13 lead.
Maryland displayed its most generous offense of the season in the first half, dishing out 10 assists on each of its first 10 made shots.
“Nebraska, they play heavy help-side defense,” Carey said. “They always in rotation, always helping each other on the defensive end. So we knew that penetrate and kicks would be there. Just setting our teammates up and making the right reads.”
Despite Maryland getting into a rhythm, Nebraska redshirt freshman guard Sam Hoiberg — the son of his head coach — touched nylon on each of his first three shots, powering Nebraska to a 64.3% shooting start and just a one-point deficit at the under-eight media timeout of the first half.
Maryland rattled off another significant run, this time a 7-0 one over more than three minutes, but Sam Hoiberg stopped the bleeding again with his third triple. The coach’s kid, who had just 13 previous total points on the season, scored 11 in the first half to keep the Cornhuskers afloat. Hoiberg finished the game with a career-high 15 points.
But Nebraska didn’t have the pedigree to stick with the Terps, who have been excellent in their home building. Emilien, who looked fully healed after a sprained ankle that kept him out for two games in mid-January, scored eight first-half points to ease the absence of Reese to foul trouble; Reese picked up his second foul with 7:21 left in the first half.
Young joined Emilien for a team-high eight points apiece in the first half, and the Terps wrapped up the first half with a 40-30 lead.
Similar to the game’s opening, the Terps struggled offensively to start the second half; Maryland missed its first four shots of the period. Carey snapped the drought three minutes and 15 seconds into the frame.
Though the Terps’ aforementioned early second-half scoring stretch seemed to give them enough of an edge, Nebraska stayed within striking distance, cutting the lead to eight. Walker continued to feast down low — he finished with 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting — and Sam Hoiberg continued to shoot well.
With the score at 59-50 with 9:06 remaining, Maryland went on another important scoring run, dropping in the game’s next seven points to extend the lead to 66-50. By the time Fred Hoiberg called his penultimate timeout with 6:56 remaining, Maryland held a commanding 71-52 lead.
Eleven Terps saw the floor in Saturday’s game, as Maryland head coach Kevin Willard emptied the bench down the stretch. The Terps sent Nebraska back to Lincoln with a loss in the first of their two meetings on the season. Maryland will head to Nebraska on Feb. 19.
Three things to know
1. Sharing the wealth. Maryland came into Sunday’s game averaging just 10.8 assists per game, by far the worst mark in the Big Ten. That wasn’t the case Saturday, when the Terps finished the game with 16 assists — tied for a season-high — on 25 made shots. In the first half alone, the Terps matched or surpassed their previous assist total from seven of their nine previous Big Ten games.
“The assists are great, but the turnovers are even bigger,” Willard said. “And I think Hakim [Hart] has been, the last few games, has really just played with a very steady pace. Finding guys, again — they shoot the ball great tonight — but five assists, one turnover.”
2. An encouraging performance by Don Carey. With stops at Mount St. Mary’s, Siena and Georgetown, Carey came to Maryland as a career 39.2% 3-point sniper. It’s been a cold season for Carey, who was shooting 28% from 3-point range prior to Saturday’s game, but the Terps will need him to stay confident to have a fruitful season. Carey finished Saturday with 16 points — the most he’s scored in Big Ten play — and made all four of his threes, his most since Jan. 5 against Rutgers.
“It was only a matter of time. I mean, I have great confidence [in him],” Willard said of Carey’s performance. “He’s never stopped putting in the work. It was a matter of time ... He didn’t get too many easy ones. He made some tough ones, which was great to see because that’s what he’s capable of doing. And if he starts doing that then I think it just gives, it just opens up everything else for everybody.”
3. Another balanced offensive performance. Against Wisconsin on Wednesday, Maryland’s top four scorers combined for 63 points in a welcomed offensive raid. Though Young has been Maryland’s top scorer — and he was again Saturday with 18 points — five Terps cracked double figures against the Cornhuskers. Saturday was the fourth time this season that five Maryland players scored 10-plus points and the first time since the Ohio State game on Jan. 8.