Following a disappointing overtime loss to Nebraska on Sunday — a game in which Maryland men’s basketball was favored and had an opportunity to separate itself in the Big Ten standings — Maryland men’s basketball had a chance to get back on the right track at home against Minnesota — the worst team in the Big Ten and one that is ailing to the finish line of the 2022-23 season.
The Terps did just that, decimating Minnesota, 88-70, Wednesday night. Maryland moved to 19-9 on the season and 10-7 in the Big Ten, securing itself a .500 or better record in conference play. With one home game left on the schedule — three games total — Maryland has a chance to go undefeated in conference home games when Northwestern comes to College Park on Sunday.
When the Terps and Golden Gophers teams met on Feb. 4, Maryland jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in a 35-point annihilation of the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In the rematch on Maryland’s home court, the opening scene did not warrant a curtain call. This time around, Minnesota jumped out to an early 13-8 lead thanks to a lethargic start from the Terps, who struggled to find enthusiasm for a home game against the last-place Golden Gophers.
Maryland’s defensive intensity and patented press that has done wonders provided the Terps with the spark they desperately needed.
After trailing by five a little over five minutes into the game, Maryland outscored Minnesota 39-17 to close out the half.
“Sometimes you just have to go with the flow of the game,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “It seemed like it was going to be a little more of an offensive game.”
When the final buzzer sounded the last time Maryland played at the XFINITY Center, a party ensued as fans stormed the court and climbed the baskets in celebration of Maryland’s upset win over No. 3 Purdue.
Wednesday night’s game certainly — and inevitably — didn’t carry the same weight, with many seats unfilled and a calmer crowd than the raucous and energetic one displayed last Thursday night. But when Maryland went on its run, the fans still showed why the XFINITY Center has been the toughest place for Big Ten teams to play this season.
Maryland fed its hungry big Julian Reese, who took advantage of a Minnesota squad with little interior presence. Reese had six of Maryland’s first eight points and finished with 21.
“I feel like I’ve been playing with more aggression the last couple weeks,” Reese said. “I feel like I just keep ramping up, ramping up and getting better.”
Hakim Hart and Donta Scott — the senior duo from Philadelphia — combined for a 12-0 run to extend Maryland’s lead to double digits for the first time all evening with around seven minutes to go in the first half. Hart and Scott each finished with 14 first-half points and 20 and 18 for the game, respectively.
The Terps continued to build on their advantage with contributions throughout the rotation. Jahmir Young and Ian Martinez got in the action as Maryland slowly strung together stops and scores before it led by 17 at the halftime break.
The Gophers and Terps traded baskets in the early going of the second half, but Maryland’s insurmountable lead remained. The Terps generated almost any shot they wanted and made them at a high clip. Maryland made seven of its first nine 3-point attempts in the game and shot 68% from the field.
Jahari Long — who seemingly fell out of the rotation but played major minutes in the last game against Nebraska — saw extended playing time at the point guard position against Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers never came within reach of staging a comeback. Instead, Maryland poured it on. Willard pulled most of his starters with five minutes to go, which evoked a roar from the fans still in attendance. Maryland’s starters combined for 80 points and all five reached double figures. Reese led the way with 21 points, the most he's scored in a Big Ten game in his career.
“I feel like every guy on this team is capable of stepping up to the plate and doing whatever we need,” Scott said.
While it wasn't the 35-point win Maryland experienced just a few weeks ago, it was another dominant victory for the Terps.
Three things to know
1. Maryland needs this version of Donta Scott. Donta Scott has been ice cold over the last week with poor performances against Purdue and Nebraska, where Scott combined for nine points. While Purdue was a massive win and Nebraska was a heartbreaking loss, Scott struggled in both games, particularly against Nebraska when he played his worst game of the season, going 2-for-16 from the field. In a blowout over Minnesota, Scott got back to his dominant ways, finishing with 18 points on an efficient 7-for-9 from the field. Minnesota is as bad as it gets in conference play, but if Scott can replicate this performance and start playing like a top option, Maryland will be positioned well down the stretch.
“Every player goes through slumps,” Scott said. “You just got to keep working, keep shooting.”
“He’s been the most consistent guy for us on the defensive end all year,” Willard said. “He’s our anchor.
2. Maryland was lights out from three. Maryland’s kryptonite this season has been its 3-point shooting. The Terps are the second-worst 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten and 331st in the country. When Maryland is at its best offensively, it’s getting downhill and limiting its 3-point attempts. But against Minnesota, Maryland was red-hot from long range, drilling seven of its first nine attempts and finishing the game shooting 54% from three on 13 shots. If Maryland can continue to shoot fewer threes but make them at a high clip, the Terps’ ceiling may be elevated.
3. Maryland has one more game to clinch an undefeated season in conference home games. Maryland is 9-0 in conference home games with one remaining. No other Big Ten team is undefeated in conference home games. What Willard’s group has accomplished at the XFINITY Center is an incredible feat. Maryland’s fans create an unbelievable and hostile atmosphere for opposing teams to play in, and the Terps capitalize on that gift. There’s one game to go against No. 21 Northwestern on Sunday, and if Maryland pulls out the win, an undefeated Big Ten home record will be celebrated for years to come, especially considering it would be the first time Maryland would have 10 conference home wins; the Big Ten implemented a 20-game conference schedule before the 2018-19 season.