Maryland men’s basketball took care of Minnesota on Wednesday, coming away with an 88-70 victory. The Terps (19-9, 10-7 Big Ten) had no trouble putting away the Golden Gophers (7-19, 1-15), the worst team in the Big Ten.
Here are a few takeaways from the game.
Maryland’s offense clicked.
While there was a bit of sleepiness from the Terps on the defensive end to begin, there was none on offense. They got almost any shot they wanted and hit at an astonishing rate of 73% in the first half (19 of 26). That mark warranted them 47 first-half points, and they finished with a blazing-hot 1.492 points per possession. For reference, Maryland entered Wednesday averaging 1.048 points per possession in Big Ten games, per KenPom.com.
“Nothing magical happened. The seeds didn’t come out and all of a sudden the plant grew. They [Minnesota] were a little tired. We knew how important this game was,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said.
Maryland didn’t need many threes to run the score up, either. It shot five in the first half and eight in the second, making seven total (54%). That willingness to avoid forcing long-distance tries was key in the Terps’ success.
It was a quiet blowout, one that didn’t have any huge moments to look back on as turning points but instead one where Maryland pulled away midway through the first half and held onto its lead from there. It won the battles for points in the paint, second-chance points and points off turnovers.
All five of the Terps’ starters also scored at least 10 points: Julian Reese had 21, Hakim Hart had 20, Donta Scott had 18 (more on him below), Jahmir Young had 11 and Don Carey had 10.
“I feel like every guy on this team is capable of stepping up to the plate and doing whatever we need and whatever Coach needs, whether that’s defense or scoring,” Scott said. “Tonight a lot of guys made shots and I’m happy for them and happy that we got the dub.”
Interestingly enough, the Terps made only 17 of their 26 free throws Wednesday. It didn’t come close to affecting the game’s outcome, but if there’s one area of their offense that needed improvement, that would be it.
Donta Scott bounced back.
There’s no sugarcoating it — Sunday’s game at Nebraska was one of the worst of Donta Scott’s Maryland career. He went just 2-for-16 from the field for a grand total of four points in the Terps’ brutal loss to the Cornhuskers.
He came out with a vengeance Wednesday, looking to make a quick impact against a Minnesota team that had no answer for a player of his size and athleticism. He had 14 points in the first half and four in the second.
“Just keep shooting. That’s it,” Scott said of his mindset. “Coach has trust in me about my shooting ability and I have trust in my shooting ability. Every player goes through slumps, and sometimes they can’t find it. You just gotta keep working, keep shooting.”
Whatever Maryland is capable of accomplishing in the postseason will be much due to the play of Scott. When he’s on — barring no-shows from Young, Hart and Reese — there are few teams that will beat the Terps. If he has struggles akin to those from Sunday, the exact opposite is true — especially when dealing with NCAA Tournament teams.
“He’s our anchor and I’m able to do so many things with him defensively,” Willard said of Scott. “You know, I just told him yesterday, I said ‘Donta, you just gotta relax.’ ... I thought he was much more relaxed on the offensive end.”
Maryland completed an easy season sweep of the Golden Gophers.
Wednesday presented a unique situation for Maryland. It was coming off a brutal loss at Nebraska, a prime letdown spot after an emotional win over No. 3 Purdue. However, one could see how the Terps would be sleepy coming into a matchup with last-place Minnesota, a home game against a team they blew out a few weeks prior and were heavy favorites in. The prize wasn’t a resume-building win or anything to get very excited about, instead it was avoiding a bad loss. Not flashy, but necessary.
After Iowa’s loss to Wisconsin hours after the conclusion of Maryland’s game, the Big Ten standings are as follows: Purdue still commands first place — and looks like a good bet to win the Big Ten regular-season title — Northwestern is in second, and Maryland sits tied with Indiana in third, although the Terps have a head-to-head win over the Hoosiers. The quartet of Illinois, Michigan State, Rutgers and Michigan all have a game in hand with the same number of conference losses, creating a logjam in the middle of the standings.
What that means is that the race for a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament, awarded to the top four seeds, will come down to the last three games of the season and likely involve tiebreakers. According to BartTorvik.com, Maryland has a 57.5% chance of getting that automatic trip to the quarterfinals — the fifth-highest in the league — but that number shoots up to over 90% if it goes 2-1 or better in its final three games.
Given the importance of the home stretch of the regular season, the best thing the Terps could do Wednesday was take care of business and flip the page. They did just that, keeping themselves in position for a top-four conference finish.