Maryland men’s basketball entered Sunday’s matinee against No. 24 Ohio State on a three-game losing streak in the Big Ten and a five-game losing streak against power conference teams.
After a phenomenal and unexpected 8-0 start to the season, Maryland’s season was quickly derailed and the Terps entered desperation mode in early January.
Maryland answered the call back at home, defeating Ohio State, 80-73, to move to 2-3 in the Big Ten.
Let’s get to some takeaways from the win.
Maryland had its best offensive start in weeks.
Maryland’s horrific offensive performances, particularly in the first half, have been well documented over the last month. Maryland’s first-half point totals in its last four games against power conference teams looked like this: 17, 20, 13, 17.
Against the Buckeyes, Maryland eclipsed 20 points less than nine minutes into the first half. The Terps got contributors from all over the roster and went back to an unselfish brand of basketball displayed in November but dissipated as the season went on.
More than anything, though, Maryland made shots. Fans and observers watching the Terps had become used to clinks coming off the rim at a high rate. Willard’s group was becoming a historically bad shooting team in conference play. The tide completely shifted against Ohio State.
Maryland finished with 80 points, 46 of which came in the second half. Maryland shot 46% from the field and 38% from three. Maryland’s most impressive shooting numbers came at the charity stripe, where the Terps attempted a whopping 33 free throws and connected on 81.8% of those.
Maryland made its shots, but its shot selection also improved. Maryland went away from shooting an abundance of threes and focused on getting downhill, using dribble-drive penetration to create quality looks.
After Maryland’s loss to Rutgers, point guard Jahmir Young said the team needs to have more movement to get the offense on track. It showed that Sunday and it started with Young leading the charge.
Young had his best game as a Terp, finishing with 30 points and 11 rebounds. The Charlotte transfer weathered every storm the Buckeyes sent, scoring at every crucial juncture.
It’s too early to say whether Maryland’s offense is fixed, but it took massive strides in the right direction against Ohio State.
The formula for Maryland is there.
Maryland’s season through 16 games has been a whirlwind, featuring some encouraging performances and some putrid ones. In its win over Ohio State, Maryland showed the formula it needs to compete with any team in the Big Ten.
Maryland’s roster is not as talented and deep as many teams in the conference, and its lack of frontcourt prowess seriously hinders it on both ends. However, Maryland’s key to success starts on the defensive end.
There have been two different versions of Maryland’s defense this season. When the Terps display consistent intensity, are pressuring guards on the perimeter and are constantly in the right help positions, they make it incredibly difficult for opposing teams to score, including Ohio State, which had the best offense in the nation in terms of KenPom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency entering Sunday. It should be noted Ohio State was without its third-leading scorer and perhaps best overall player in Zed Key, who sat due to a shoulder sprain.
The other key for Maryland is getting into a full court press. The Terps are at their best when they dictate the pace, which the press allows them to do. Of course it’s much easier to get into a press after made baskets, which is why it was rare the Terps consistently pressed in recent games.
That brings us to the offense. If Maryland is struggling shooting the ball and goes on extended droughts — which is a part of the 2022-23 Maryland basketball experience at this point — it is going to be a serious challenge to compete against the Big Ten’s best. Last week, Willard said his group needs to figure out how to score against bigger teams.
That’s certainly true, and winning the 3-point battle is the best way to do that, but generating quality shots is even more essential. Against Ohio State, Maryland showed it can do that. The Terps’ offense was predicated on dribble-drive penetration and either getting all the way to the rim, or kicking out for an open look. It’s what led to Maryland’s best start against a power conference opponent in over a month. Ohio State attempted six more threes than Maryland and made four more, but the Terps still outscored the Buckeyes.
The final piece of the formula for Maryland — and maybe the most important — is its best offensive players playing like it. Jahmir Young and Donta Scott were in a slump before Sunday. When those two guys are struggling Maryland’s entire offense struggles.
Young had his best game as a Terp against Ohio State, exploding for 30 points and 11 rebounds for the seventh double-double of his career. Scott had his best shooting performance in weeks, finishing with 12 points on 50% shooting from three. All five of Maryland’s starters finished in double figures.
If Young and Scott are successfully carrying the load, and contributions are coming throughout the lineup, Maryland’s offense is set up for success.
It is going to be a roller coaster season for Maryland.
Buckle up, Maryland fans. There’s a lot of uncertainly surrounding Maryland on a game-to-game basis in terms of which version of the Terps will show up. But if one thing is for certain, it’s that this season is going to be a roller coaster.
It’s amazing how often expectations are reset throughout a college basketball season. In the preseason, Maryland making the NCAA Tournament was a long shot. After its 8-0 start and the improvement and buy-in Maryland’s players exhibited early on, Maryland making the tournament seemed like a guarantee. Now, five games into the Big Ten slate, the road to making the tournament is an uphill battle but optimism remains after its second quadrant one win this season.
The narrative surrounding this team and its tournament chances is sure to change a dozen more times in the next two months.
If there’s anything fans have learned through the first few games of conference play it’s that no team reigns supreme and anything can happen on any given night in the Big Ten.
Maryland is 2-3 in the conference, and it will be vital for the Terps to rack up conference wins at home given the difficulty of winning on the road in the Big Ten.
Maryland has a week off before it heads on the road to Iowa on Sunday. It then has a rematch against Michigan at home, a road game against Big Ten favorite Purdue and a home rematch against Wisconsin. It’s a fools errand to predict Maryland’s record in its next four games. Whether Maryland is at home or on the road may be a good indicator as to what version of Willard’s squad will show up.
The only thing we do know is that every night will be a crap shoot in a conference as deep and chaotic as the Big Ten.