Maryland men’s basketball moved to 6-5 in the Big Ten with an impressive 66-55 win over Indiana in College Park. All six of Maryland’s conference wins have come at XFINITY Center.
Maryland asserted itself early, feeding off an energetic and loud crowd. The Terps limited Indiana superstar Trayce Jackson-Davis and found ways to score despite shooting 23% from three.
Maryland finished its three-game home stretch 3-0 with wins over Wisconsin, Nebraska and Indiana. The Terps will head back on the road for games against Minnesota and Michigan State in search of their first conference road win.
Let’s get to some takeaways from Maryland’s convincing win over Indiana.
Maryland dominated its home stretch and has a reasonable path forward.
After a grueling opening eight games to begin Big Ten play, Maryland found itself sitting 3-5 in the Big Ten with all five losses on the road. A critical three-game stretch was on the horizon with all three games at home. It was essential for the Terps to capitalize at home and solidify themselves worthy of earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament. They did just that, going 3-0 and beating opponents by a combined 48 points.
Other than Purdue, who is well on its way to clinching sole possession of the Big Ten regular-season title, the Big Ten standings are cluttered. Only a few games separate second and eleventh place in the standings. Maryland is currently in a tie for fifth place and has nine games to go before the Big Ten Tournament, which could see the Terps catapult themselves into a top-four seed and a potential double-bye in the conference tournament.
Five of Maryland’s final nine games are against Minnesota, Nebraska or Penn State. While no game is a cakewalk in the Big Ten, those three teams sit in the bottom half of the conference standings. However, five of Maryland’s nine remaining games are on the road, where it has yet to win a game in conference play. For the Terps to stay toward the top of the standings, or potentially separate itself from the pack, they will need to win at least a couple of games on the road.
“We got to figure out how to win on the road,” head coach Kevin Willard said.
As the calendar flipped from January to February less than an hour after Maryland concluded its win over Indiana, it officially became one month until March — 28 days to be exact. Every team hopes to play its best basketball this time of year, which Maryland, winner of three straight, certainly is.
Practically every bracketologist had Maryland in the field of 68 prior to Tuesday night, but with its win, Maryland solidified its chances at a trip to the NCAA Tournament, barring an epic collapse down the stretch. The main question that remains is what seed the Terps will be, which will be answered in the coming weeks.
Maryland’s defensive game plan against Trayce Jackson-Davis was brilliant.
On Monday, Willard called Jackson-Davis one of the best players in the country, and said he was even more dominant than national player of the year front-runner Zach Edey, who scored 24 and grabbed 16 rebounds against Maryland on Jan. 22.
While that may have been slight hyperbole from Willard, Jackson-Davis has been one of the more dominant players to come through the Big Ten in recent years. His size, athleticism and uncanny touch around the rim make him unguardable one-on-one. Maryland made sure he was rarely in single coverage situations. The Terps’ defensive game plan was brilliant against a Hoosiers team that came to College Park riding a five-game win streak.
Maryland forced Indiana’s supporting cast to beat it — similar to what it did against Purdue and Edey. Jackson-Davis rarely steps out on the perimeter — he hasn’t attempted a three all season — with most of his touches coming in the mid- or low-post. Maryland quickly sent a double team virtually every time he touched the ball, forcing him into either a difficult shot or a pass out to an open teammate.
“We definitely felt disrespected as a team,” sophomore forward Julian Reese said. “We felt like they just kind of overlooked us.”
Race Thompson scored 11 for the Hoosiers but no other Indiana player entered double figures. Indiana is averaging close to 74 points per game in the Big Ten this season, but was held to just 55 on Tuesday.
Jackson-Davis averages 19.6 points per game this season and finished with 18 against Maryland, but was mostly held in check.
Willard and his staff have shown — thanks to well-executed plans — they have the ability to stack up against teams with dominant bigs despite their perceived lack of frontcourt depth.
“The bigs he’s [Julian Reese] has had to battle for the last five games and really, if not win it, break even, just shows you how far Julian has come,” Willard said about Reese’s performance as the primary defender on Jackson-Davis.
Maryland’s offense proved it can shine despite poor shooting.
Maryland is better when it shoots less threes. There’s enough of a sample size to know Maryland struggles shooting threes. In fact, the Terps are the second-worst 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten. Although they shoot it better at home than on the road, Maryland does not win games from beyond the arc.
Maryland’s key to success has been attacking the basket. Maryland is better off when its priority is getting downhill and it’s not chucking from long range. When Maryland does have success from three it is a product of blowing past its perimeter defenders, forcing the help defense to converge and kicking it out for open looks.
Maryland shot over 35% from three against Wisconsin and Nebraska as a result of that formula. Those successful shooting nights likely led to an over-reliance on threes in the early part of the Indiana game. Maryland consistently took rushed and contested shots instead of attacking the basket.
That changed in the second half as Maryland shot just seven threes, compared to 15 in the first 20 minutes.
“I just kinda reminded our guys that, you know, I asked them, ‘If someone could make a shot, it would be really helpful,’” Willard said he asked his team during a first half timeout. “I kind of just joked around with them, just relaxed them a little bit.”
Despite its influx of threes — and misses — Maryland still found ways to score, an encouraging sign for a team that is inconsistent offensively. Maryland’s identity is to grind it out on the defensive end, starting with its full-court press. When Maryland gets back into its half-court defense, it’s clear Willard has instilled sound principles that lead to consecutive defensive stops.
But defense can’t win games by itself, and whether Maryland is shooting well or not, it’s found ways to score.
Jahmir Young is the engine, battery and everything else that makes Maryland’s offense go. And to say he’s been in full gear would be an understatement.
Maryland’s offense has been good because Young has been great. Maryland shot 23% from three against Indiana with five makes. Young made three of those five. He’s scored over 20 points in every Big Ten home game this season and finished with exactly 20 on Tuesday.
“I’m just trying to get to the rim and get a few easy ones early on. I felt like that was able to get me going,” Young said.