Sensing the game falling into the danger zone, Maryland men’s basketball head coach Kevin Willard called a timeout with 16:11 remaining. No. 3 Purdue had built a game-high eight-point lead, and the Terps needed an answer quickly.
Willard’s go-to man, graduate guard Jahmir Young, got the team rolling with a bucket to cut it to six. On the next defensive possession, Maryland got a stop, and Purdue forward Mason Gillis was called for a technical after arguing a call. It was hard to foresee in the moment, but Gillis’ technical seemed like the turning point of the game.
“It was definitely a momentum swing,” Young said of the technical foul. “Just trying to limit them to one shot, get out in transition. That’s when we play our best ball.”
In front of the best XFINITY Center crowd of the year and one of the best in recent memory, the Terps turned into world-beaters on both ends of the floor. Maryland rattled off an unspeakable, unthinkable 27-4 run against the Big Ten’s best, stretching its lead to 58-41 with about seven minutes to play. By then the outcome was all but complete against the team atop the conference.
With zeroes on the clock, the students poured onto the floor to celebrate in a raucous court storm. Maryland celebrated its first win — a 68-54 victory — versus an AP top-five team since beating Iowa on Jan. 28, 2016, a landmark accomplishment and the first true signature win of the Kevin Willard era.
“[Maryland assistant coach] Grant Billmeier and I were in early this morning watching film and I said to him, I said, ‘There’s no doubt we’re gonna win this game.’ I had no doubt,” Willard said. “These kids have worked extremely hard. When we have played bad, they’ve had a great attitude, they’ve worked hard, they’ve brought it every day. We had three good days of practice this week, so I knew we were gonna win, this was not a surprise for me.”
Echoes of the students’ rendition of “Rock ‘n’ Roll (Part 2)” reigned throughout the XFINITY Center just prior to Thursday’s tilt, setting the stage for a vintage Maryland men’s basketball environment.
While many probably fear the opportunity going against Purdue’s Wooden Award front-runner and 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey, Maryland sophomore forward Julian Reese has seemed to embrace it. Reese made a name for himself against the Boilermakers in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 22, scoring 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the Terps’ near-upset win.
Reese fed off the atmosphere early Thursday, forcing two Edey turnovers on Purdue’s first two possessions of the game. Reese also poured in four early points on the other end, including a physical basket where he powered through Edey.
Maryland wasn’t seeing the ball go through the net at a scorching clip in the first half — the Terps shot just 31% (8-of-26) in the first 20 minutes — but bench minutes from junior guard Ian Martinez and graduate forward Patrick Emilien gave it a jolt. Emilien scored seven first-half points, including his first made triple of the season, and blocked one of Edey’s shots.
While Maryland’s defensive intensity was key to its competitive first half, it struggled to capitalize with extended makes. The Terps fought through a near three-minute scoring drought toward the end of the half, and more than five minutes transpired between Emilien’s 3-pointer and the Terps’ next field goal.
Despite the offensive difficulties, Young’s 10 points led Maryland to just a 28-25 deficit at the break. With Young’s ferocity driving to the rim and Reese’s defensive stoutness, Edey, who had not picked up four fouls once in Big Ten play, had picked up his second foul in the first half alone.
Powered by freshman guard Braden Smith — who hit his first seven shots — and Edey, Purdue quickly extended its lead to a game-high 37-29. Sensing danger, Willard burned a timeout before the under-16 media break.
Following Willard’s timeout, a flip completely switched. Young hit a tough two. Gillis was hit with a technical after arguing a foul call, and it turned into a four-point possession with free throws and a Reese make. Graduate guard Don Carey then hit a layup before feeding Reese for the go-ahead bucket. A 10-0 run suddenly put Maryland back in front with a 39-37 lead, forcing a Purdue timeout.
“I thought Maryland did a great job of just being aggressive and getting the ball where they wanted to,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. “Jahmir Young broke us down, Hakim Hart. It just seemed like they were living about eight feet from the rim right in the middle. So they’re just breaking us down off the dribble, and they’re really aggressive. Give them credit.”
The teams traded blows, and Maryland — with a plethora of players stepping up — held a 43-40 lead at the under-12 media timeout.
Maryland kept its momentum rolling thereafter, rattling off an 11-1 run to stretch its lead to 50-41. The XFINITY Center produced an absolutely bananas college basketball environment, encapsulating what makes Maryland’s home-court advantage so lethal.
The Terps refused to stop, building their lead with crucial and-ones, 3-point makes and all the little things.
“I thought our press was able to negate a lot of their physicality,” Willard said. “[To] give up only three offensive rebounds to that team — again, they shot a really good percentage. But I thought, again, these guys really locked in. They understood what we had to do.”
Maryland legend and former ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez took the arena microphone at the final media timeout, prompting the unofficial start of the celebration.
To put the icing on the cake, Donta Scott banked in a triple with about one and a half minutes remaining.
Thursday marked a storybook moment for Willard and the Terps, who scream the likes of a program which is back on the national map.
Three things to know
1. The second-half scoring run changed everything. Maryland’s scoring stretch in the second half wasn’t just a flurry — it was an avalanche. The Terps dominated the Boilermakers in seemingly every aspect of the game in the second half, outscoring them 43-26 — and 39-17 after Willard’s timeout early in the second half.
2. Julian Reese and Patrick Emilien rose to the challenge against Zach Edey. Though Reese didn’t quite match his offensive input from Jan. 22 against Purdue, it was perhaps a more fiery performance from the Terps’ budding star. Reese finished with 10 points, and Emilien provided a necessary spark with nine points on 3-of-3 shooting. Edey was good by normal standards, scoring 18 points and grabbing eight rebounds, but the Terps held him below his gargantuan standards with impeccable defensive physicality.
3. A signature moment for Kevin Willard. When Willard accepted the Maryland job this spring, he had to be imagining nights like Thursday. When the outcome seemed gloomy, Willard turned around his troops, igniting a ferocious run to seal the deal. When the XFINITY Center gets going, it is as good of an environment as any nationally. Everything came to fruition Thursday night, and it had to provide validation for Willard’s vision for Maryland basketball.
“This is gonna sound terrible, but I’ve been in a lot of wins and a lot of losses,” Willard said. “So I guess that I was happy for the kids, this is all about that group of kids. This has nothing to do with Kevin Willard, this has nothing to do with the staff, this has nothing to do with anybody besides that group, and they earned it.”