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Maryland men’s basketball vs. Minnesota preview (game two)

The Terps blew the Golden Gophers out on Feb. 4.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland men’s basketball — sitting at 18-9 overall, 9-7 in Big Ten play and comfortably in the NCAA Tournament field — returns home for a rematch against Minnesota on Wednesday.

Winners of seven of their last 10 games, the Terps are playing some of their best basketball of the season. After last week started with a 68-54 home win over Big Ten leader and No. 3 Purdue, the signature moment of the Kevin Willard era, it ended poorly. Maryland had multiple chances to close out an inferior Nebraska team on the road Sunday, but the Terps just could not get the job done, falling 70-66 to the Cornhuskers.

The Terps are still perfect at home in Big Ten play. Wednesday’s game, which will begin at 7 p.m. on Big Ten Network, is Maryland’s penultimate home game of the season. The Terps have just four games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament commences.

What happened last time

Maryland picked up its first conference road win of the season on Feb. 4 via an 81-46 demolition of the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis.

The Terps had one of their most efficient offensive performances of the season, lighting up the box score with 1.33 points per possession (per, 52.4% shooting overall and 42.9% shooting from deep. Plenty of offensive balance existed in the victory, with sophomore forward Julian Reese, graduate guard Jahmir Young, senior forward Donta Scott and junior guard Ian Martinez combining for 54 points.

Minnesota, on the other hand, was miserable offensively. The Golden Gophers turned the ball over 16 times, leading to 23 Maryland points. Maryland’s pressure and intensity caused issues for Minnesota, which shot just 11-of-24 on twos and 2-of-14 on 3-pointers.

The result marked Maryland’s largest road victory in its Big Ten history. Minnesota starting center Dawson Garcia did not play with an ankle injury.

What’s happened since

Maryland has gone 2-2 in its four games since its first meeting against the Golden Gophers.

The Terps fell 63-58 at Michigan State on Feb. 7, a game where the Spartans scored the first 15 points and held off a ferocious Maryland comeback.

After falling to the Spartans, Maryland returned home for a two-game homestand, which it swept. The Terps squeaked by Penn State, 74-68, on Feb. 11 despite 12 Nittany Lion 3-pointers. They held serve with their defeat of the Boilermakers five days later, a season-defining moment for the Terps. Maryland’s loss to Nebraska last Sunday was its most recent outing.

Minnesota’s loss to the Terps was the seventh leg of a 10-game losing streak. The Golden Gophers were more competitive in both their 68-56 loss to Iowa on Feb. 12 and their 76-69 defeat to Penn State on Feb. 18.

Minnesota will have fewer than 48 hours of rest after Monday’s 78-69 loss at Illinois. It was the Golden Gophers’ second loss to the Fighting Illini in 2023.

Dawson Garcia has since returned for the Golden Gophers. The North Carolina transfer is averaging 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in two games since coming back.

“I think what Dawson brings them is all of a sudden they’re very long, athletic on the front line now,” Willard said. “[Jamison] Battle’s long and physical, Garcia’s physical. [Pharrel] Payne is, he’s a heck of a young player for a center, he’s really physical. So I think they went from being kind of, they’re undersized and small the first time we played them now to being a very physical — I’ve been impressed with the way they’ve played defensively since Garcia has been back.”

Three things to watch

1. What will the rotation look like? Whether it was in search of an offensive spark or optimal defensive matchups, Terps head coach Willard tweaked with his rotations against Nebraska. Starting shooting guard Don Carey played eight minutes total — zero in the second half — against the Cornhuskers, the second time in four games he was benched after the first half. Backup guard Jahari Long appeared to be falling out of the rotation but played nine minutes against Nebraska, his most since the first meeting against Minnesota. Sparsely-used redshirt freshman guard Ike Cornish also played six minutes in the first half.

One would assume Willard’s rotation returns to his normal seven, but perhaps Carey’s playing time will see more of a shift moving forward.

“Nope, same as always,” Willard said Tuesday of his rotation.

2. Can Donta Scott get back on track? Maryland’s power forward had a rough offensive performance against Nebraska, scoring five points on 2-of-16 shooting from the field — 1-of-8 from deep. Scott has shot at least 50% from the field in just one of the Terps’ last seven games. Considering his shot volume, Maryland will need Scott to be more efficient.

3. Will Hakim Hart’s hot shooting continue? The senior guard has always been an underrated, indispensable offensive player. However, Hart had been on a difficult shooting stretch, going 16 straight games from Dec. 6 to Feb. 7 without making multiple threes in a single game. Hart has since made at least two threes in each of Maryland’s last three games, shooting 57.1% (8-of-14) on 3-pointers. If he continues as a go-to sniper from deep, it will change Maryland’s offensive complexion for the better.