CHICAGO — No. 6-seed Maryland men’s basketball is moving onto the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals after edging out No. 14-seed Minnesota, 70-54, Thursday night.
It wasn’t as easy as the first two times Maryland played Minnesota, where the Terps won by an average score of 26. Maryland was clearly the better team but failed to impose its superiority over Minnesota for long stretches. While the game never felt close, the score indicated it was.
Four players scored double figures for Maryland, including a game-high 20 points from Donta Scott. Maryland will play Indiana in the quarterfinals Friday night at 9 p.m.
“I think the last couple of days we’ve had a lot of fun in practice,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “I want them to enjoy this moment.”
Let’s get to some takeaways from the second-round win.
Despite not earning the double-bye, Maryland got an opportunity for a tune-up in an ugly win.
Maryland squandered its opportunity to earn a double-bye and an automatic trip to the quarterfinals when it lost to Penn State in the final game of the regular season. But in some ways, it got a mini-bye when Minnesota appeared on the schedule. A tune-up, if you will. Minnesota upset Nebraska, 78-75, in round one to earn a matchup with Maryland. But from the opening tip, similar to the teams’ previous meetings, there was little doubt Maryland would walk away victorious.
The first two times Minnesota faced Maryland, the Gophers looked like they didn’t belong on the same court as the Terps. Maryland is too talented, too physical and too fast for the team that finished last in the conference.
That was not the case for Maryland in the opening 20 minutes, as it let Minnesota creep around. For most of the final 20 minutes, Maryland looked like the team that was a 13-point favorite.
While extra rest is valuable, so is shaking off any rust that might be present from a layoff. Playing an inferior opponent in an unfamiliar setting 24 hours before playing a team as talented as Indiana can be beneficial.
If Maryland’s play against Indiana resembles what it did Thursday night against Minnesota, it doesn’t stand a chance. However, having a game under its belt — one that was an ugly win — could help Maryland the rest of the tournament.
“After two tough losses on the road and playing really well the two games before that, it was good to just, kind of, I don't know, get a different feel,” Willard said.
It also can help Scott, who has struggled in recent weeks, particularly away from home. Scott dominated early, finding a rhythm from three and getting to the basket with ease. He had eight of Maryland’s first 15 points. While the defense will be more proficient as competition increases, if a tune-up game can help Scott find his groove, then it’s worthwhile.
So while Maryland didn’t get a bye, it got something that could turn out to be better.
Maryland overcame a poor Jahmir Young showing.
Jahmir Young is the undisputed best player on Maryland’s roster. The team goes as he goes. When he’s playing well, Maryland has a chance against anybody. When he’s not, which has been rare this season, Maryland struggles.
That rarity became reality Thursday night when Young was deemed ineffective for the entire first half. He was 0-for-6 from the field in the first half and collected just one point. Scott had his best game in weeks, totaling 20 points, 16 of which came in the first half. Six Maryland players scored more points in the first half than Young.
Young’s first made field goal didn’t come until less there were than 12 minutes to go in the second half with Maryland sporting an eight-point lead.
The good news for Maryland was its competition was weak so it did not matter. Maryland’s teammates lifted Young up in one of his worst games of the season.
Shooting guard Don Carey notched 11, his fifth straight game in double figures. Guard Hakim Hart and forward Julian Reese added eight and 10, respectively.
Young’s poor showing was one of the reasons Minnesota stuck around while Maryland failed to pull away.
Young ended up finishing with 15 points — all but one of which came with under 12 minutes to play — despite 3-for-13 shooting, which speaks to just how great Young is and has been all season.
“It was a rough night for me, but the win is all that matters,” Young said.
If Maryland has any chance of advancing any further in this tournament, though, it is going to need Young’s best.
A look at how Maryland can replicate its performance against Indiana to advance to the semifinals.
With the win, Maryland advanced to the Big Ten quarterfinals and will take on No. 3-seed Indiana, who has the second-best odds to win the tournament behind Purdue. Maryland and Indiana met just once before this season in College Park, where the Terps walked away with a 66-55 win.
Maryland’s success at home is hard to replicate whether on the road or at a neutral location, like the Big Ten Tournament. But from a purely schematic perspective, there was a lot Maryland did well defensively it can attempt to replicate to knock off the Hoosiers.
Maryland’s defense completely shut down star freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino. Hood-Schifino had just three points on an abysmal 1-for-14 shooting. The Terps’ perimeter defenders in Young and Hart deserve the credit for limiting Indiana’s second-leading scorer.
Even more impressive is the fact that Maryland shut down Hood-Schifino while also containing Indiana’s dominant frontcourt. Prior to the matchup, Willard praised Trayce Jackson-Davis as the best player in the country. Despite that, Maryland had a brilliant game plan for Jackson-Davis and forward Race Thompson, implementing timely doubles that forced the ball out of Jackson-Davis’ hands. Julian Reese was the primary defender on Jackson-Davis and held his own against the All-Big Ten first-team selection.
There’s reason for Maryland to be optimistic about a rematch with Indiana, but also reason to be pessimistic. Let’s start with the negative.
It’s highly unlikely Maryland will have similar success limiting Indiana’s stars. Indiana will watch the tape from their initial meeting in College Park and figure out ways to counteract Maryland’s double teams. Willard and his staff will have to get even more creative in how they defend Indiana’s bigs. It’s also a certainty Hood-Schifino will have a more efficient showing.
Now for the glimmer of optimism. Maryland wasn't particularly good offensively, either. The Terps put up just 66 points, below their average of 70 points per game. Maryland also shot 23% from deep on 22 attempts. Although Maryland has been a wildly inconsistent 3-point shooting team all season, 23% is well below its season average of 32.7%. Indiana only shot 27% on half as many attempts.
If Maryland can get hot on a neutral court and outpace Indiana by pressing and getting out in transition, it will have a chance to pull off the season sweep. Indiana is 6-3 since it last played Maryland, while the Terps are 6-4.
Looking at the first matchup can’t forecast everything to come Friday night, but it can provide a glimpse into a successful formula for Maryland.