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Takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball’s victory over Nebraska

Maryland brought its conference record back to .500.

Nebraska v Maryland Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Maryland men’s basketball improved to 14-7 overall and 5-5 in the Big Ten with an 82-63 win over Nebraska on Saturday. The Terps’ win — their first time winning back-to-back conference games this season — was their largest margin of victory in a Big Ten game since they beat Rutgers by 20 points on Feb. 28, 2017 and was also their largest margin of victory in a home Big Ten game since Dec. 27, 2016.

Here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s contest.

Maryland distributed the ball well and forced turnovers.

Maryland’s passing was sublime Saturday, as it reverted back to the ball movement that made it so successful to start the season. Maryland has often settled for the first decent look it gets rather than seeking out the best look it can, which has led to streaky shooting performances.

From the jump, the Terps spread the ball out around the perimeter and made Nebraska work on every possession. Their first 10 made field goals were assisted and they ended with 16 assists on 25 made shots, tying their season high for assists in a game.

“I would say this was one of our highlights of the year,” graduate forward Patrick Emilien said following the game. “Just moving the ball, everyone getting touches, everybody feeling like they’re contributing equally and just knowing where to go.”

The Terps’ selectivity allowed their shooters to get good looks from outside instead of taking contested or rushed threes. Graduate guard Don Carey, who has struggled mightily with shot selection and shot-making throughout much of the season, went 4-for-4 on 3-pointers, living up to his billing as the sharpshooter he has been known as throughout his six-year collegiate career.

“Don’s a shooter, that’s what he does, he’s a great shooter. So he just was just finding his place, hitting threes like he always does, and yeah, everybody had the right approach to today’s game,” Emilien added.

“I think the biggest thing is, the assists are great but the turnovers are even bigger,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said. “I think Hakim [Hart] has been, the last few games, has really just played with a very steady pace, finding guys. And again, [he] didn’t shoot the ball great tonight but five assists, one turnover ... the way he’s playing passing the basketball has made a big difference.”

Maryland’s ball movement made Nebraska scramble on the defensive end, and its pressure forced the Cornhuskers to make mistakes on offense, too. Nebraska turned the ball over 15 times — Jahmir Young had six steals on his own — leading to 20 Maryland points off turnovers. The Huskers only had six such points.

“Turnovers, what did we have? 15, I guess, was too many. ... The turnovers is what did us in,” Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “And give them credit.”

Patrick Emilien was dynamic.

Perhaps the most important player on the court for Maryland was Patrick Emilien. He finished with 10 points, a team-high seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 25 minutes — his playing time extended due to a combination of his effectiveness and sophomore forward Julian Reese’s foul trouble.

Looking beyond the statistics, Emilien brings an intangible aspect to the game that can make up for his 6-foot-7 build that often puts him at a size disadvantage against the big-man-loaded Big Ten. He’s always scrapping for rebounds, avoiding turnovers and able to move from position to position seamlessly regardless of who he’s on the court with.

“I’m a veteran, I’m a senior player, and I really couldn’t care less [about statistics] as long as we get the win,” Emilien said. “So I think we’ve been picking it up recently, and if it’s zero points or 10 points I’ll be equally as happy if we’re back in the locker room with a win.”

Emilien was unproven at the high-major level when he first arrived at Maryland, but has more than held his own with the Terps. Willard has repeatedly praised Emilien’s importance to the team over the course of the season, and those statements looked as true as ever Saturday.

“The fact that I feel very comfortable being able to move him from power forward to center, center to power forward, and he’s able to do that. From a play call standpoint, from a defensive standpoint, from a zone standpoint, that’s very valuable,” Willard said.

Maryland’s string of home games is going swimmingly.

For all the issues Maryland has had away from XFINITY Center, there’s no denying that it has been playing fantastic at home this season. Given that, the Terps had no choice but to get results when four of their five final games in January were to be played in College Park.

Maryland has more than delivered in that stretch so far, knocking off Michigan — a team that beat it by 35 points earlier in the month — and following that up with two of its most complete performances in wins over Wisconsin and Nebraska. Even if Maryland falls to a surging Indiana squad on Tuesday — a game that ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives Maryland a 54.2% chance of winning — it would have gone 3-1 in those four home games, more than enough to keep its NCAA Tournament outlook optimistic, especially with a prime chance to get its first road win on the horizon with a trip to face Minnesota (the last place team in the Big Ten) next on the docket.

“The last two games we were at home, so we realized that we got a strong home-court advantage to capitalize off of that, but really just taking this momentum and taking it on the road when that time comes,” Carey said. “I think that’s a big step that we’ve got to take and be road warriors and figure out how to win on the road in tough environments.”

The Terps are 5-0 at home in Big Ten play and 11-1 overall at XFINITY Center. While it’s unlikely that Maryland will run the table in its five remaining home games and it’ll need to pick up road wins eventually, there’s no doubt that it plays best on its home hardwood.