In a game it scheduled with intentions of breezing to a comfortable mid-December victory, Maryland men’s basketball needed all 40 minutes to scrape past Nicholls State on Tuesday in College Park. The Terps added a third straight win to their resume with a 73-67 result, but it was anything but a comfortable route there.
The Colonels (4-7) entered the game with one of the least intimidating paint presences in the nation. They ranked in the bottom 45 of Division I teams in both offensive and rebounding, per KenPom.com, lacking imposing height with no starters over 6-foot-8.
However, Nicholls State did come in with a higher-than-usual ratio of 3-pointers to 2-point field goal attempts. Its formula for victory was clear: survive in the paint and rely on outside shooting to make things tricky for the more complete opposing squad. Despite Maryland’s 13 blocks, the plan worked and nearly earned the road team an upset win.
The Terps (7-4) had to contest with a hot-shooting Colonels squad that had an answer for every punch Maryland threw. Nicholls made 10 of its first 15 attempts from beyond the arc, and Maryland didn’t make its opponent pay with physicality inside. Julian Reese, the Terps’ primary post target, was fouled numerous times and shot 11 free throws, but converted just three.
“You’ve got to give Nicholls some credit,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said. “They came in and played really hard and made some shots early that really got them going.”
If it weren’t for a Donta Scott 3-pointer with just seconds left on the clock, Maryland would’ve entered halftime behind. Less than four minutes into the second half, a Rob Brown III triple swished through the net, granting Nicholls State its advantage back and prompting an emergency timeout from Willard.
Colonels head coach Tevon Saddler, who served as Maryland’s director of player personnel last season, stalked the sidelines with energy while his former employer searched for answers. When Jamal West Jr. grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a put-back layup shortly after, Saddler leapt into the air with a celebratory fist raised. Meanwhile, the disgruntled Terps sat on the bench on the opposite end of the scorer’s table.
The next two possessions saw the Colonels extend their stunning run to 13 unanswered points. Willard, scrambling for a solution, called another timeout, prompting Saddler to turn to the traveling fans and encourage them to make noise in an otherwise dormant XFINITY Center.
“I think the timeout was more or less just like, ‘Hey guys, we’ve got to grow up a little bit and just sit down and guard and stop letting our offense dictate our defense,’” Willard said.
“Just being solid, that was the biggest thing,” Maryland guard Jahmir Young added. “Just us getting stops, limiting them to one shot and just getting out and transition and getting easy buckets.”
Scott then came to the rescue, scoring nine of Maryland’s next 11 points to bring the deficit within two with eight minutes remaining. A layup by Jordan Geronimo and three by Jahari Long thrust the Terps ahead for the first time in over 10 minutes.
“I knew that I had to be a leader and had to step up and try to get these guys together,” Scott said. “... My mindset was just go out there and bring something to the floor.”
It was a back-and-forth affair from then on, with the Terps slowly but surely pulling ahead and the Colonels cooling off enough to let them do so.
Three things to know
1. Scott shined. When the Colonels began to pull away in the second half, Scott stepped up and kept Maryland alive. He scored 15 points and made four his eight attempts from three, providing clutch buckets. Young (23 points) was the only Terp to score more.
“He led us on both sides of the court,” Young said of Scott. “Without his leadership, I don’t know how we would’ve won.”
2. Reese struggled from the line. It seemed as though Reese had remedied his well-documented free-throw struggles, but they resurfaced Tuesday. He did, however, impact the game with 13 rebounds and six blocks.
“[Reese] has been really good all year defensively,” Willard said. “He struggled a little bit tonight offensively, but I was proud of the fact that he really focused in on the defensive end.”
3. A third straight win, but work to do. Maryland has won three consecutive games, but the manner in which Tuesday’s game played out did not inspire confidence. With a road game at UCLA next on the docket and Big Ten play kicking into full gear shortly after, the Terps still have much to improve upon.