This story has been updated.
Maryland basketball hits the road for the last time this season on Wednesday, when it heads to State College, Pennsylvania, to wrap up its season series with Penn State. The Terps ensured they will finish with at least a .500 conference road record last week, but can add to their Big Ten road win total.
The Terps moved up to No. 17 in the latest AP poll after going 2-0 last week, winning a road game against now-No. 22 Iowa before returning home to top Ohio State. After a grueling away schedule this season, Maryland will wrap up road play with a game that looks easier on paper before returning home for its final two games of the season. Eric Ayala missed the second half of Maryland’s win over the Buckeyes, but head coach Mark Turgeon said he’ll be ready to go against the Nittany Lions.
Maryland will head into the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday, looking to secure the series sweep in a 6:30 p.m. ET tipoff on BTN.
What happened last time
These two first met to open Big Ten play on Dec. 1, when much less was known about each team. The Terps trailed by one at halftime, despite hitting just one field goal in the final eight minutes of the first half. It was a tight game after the break, and Anthony Cowan Jr. helped deliver the win with two big-time three-pointers in the final minutes to secure a 66-59 win.
Maryland dominated in the paint, with Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando taking control inside. Smith led all Terps with 16 points and added eight boards, while Fernando secured his third-straight triple double with 12 points and 13 boards. Cowan vaulted between them on the scoring list with his late-game triples, finishing with 15 points and a very impactful 2-of-6 beyond the arc.
Here’s the preview and recap from last time.
What’s happened since
The Terps have gone on to stay in competition for a top-four conference finish. Maryland lost its other December conference game to Purdue, but would go on to win its next six once conference play resumed in January. The Terps currently sit in fourth place of the conference, sporting a 12-5 Big Ten record and sitting a game up on Wisconsin in the win column.
For Penn State, however, the loss would start a 10-game conference losing streak. The Nittany Lions would lose both of their December Big Ten games and every January conference game. Penn State’s fared much better in February, though, going 4-2 so far, including a win over then-No. 6 Michigan.
Three things to watch
1, Does Maryland keep the turnovers down? After the Terps took down Ohio State, head coach Mark Turgeon jokingly said not to ask him about turnovers, while acknowledging they’re still a problem. Last time these two teams faced off, Maryland had 17 giveaways to Penn State’s eight and trailed 19-8 on points off turnovers. If the Terps are going to get the problem fixed before the postseason, Penn State provides a good venue to buck the trend.
2. Do Maryland’s bigs have a repeat performance? Teams have keyed in on Fernando in the first half recently, with little long-term success. He’s piled it on in the second half of the last two games to finish with consecutive double-doubles. Smith has had inconsistent performances in the post, but another game against the Nittany Lions could do him well. Smith will start with the responsibility of guarding Lamar Stevens, Turgeon said Wednesday. And Penn State has found some success bringing shot-blocker Mike Watkins off the bench, but without another big next to Stephens in the post, Maryland could find success in the paint.
3. How does Maryland close out its road schedule? Maryland has more than likely wrapped up its place in the tournament, earning its sixth Quadrant 1 win last week at Iowa. However, the last three games of the season are important not only for conference tournament seeding but overall momentum heading into the postseason. A win also ensures a winning Big Ten road record on the season, despite the rugged road schedule Maryland’s endured.
We’ve updated this story with a few quotes from Maryland’s media availability Tuesday afternoon. Catch Mark Turgeon’s full press conference here.
Sophomore center Bruno Fernando, on preparing for Lamar Stevens:
“[Jalen Smith]’s just gotta be ready for the challenge in front of him. [Stevens] is a heck of a player. We all have to be aware of him as a team and we have to play team defense on him. For Jalen, he’s just gotta stay locked in and really stay down on shot fakes because that’s something he uses a lot.”
Freshman guard Aaron Wiggins, on turnovers:
“Turnovers, they can easily cost games. And that’s something that we work on. We watch film and we see every little mistake we make and we see what areas we need to work on to get better. Of course preventing any type of turnover is going to be better for the team to keep teams from getting back in the game. ... It’s something we work on and we’re going to continue to work on so we don’t have as many.”
Head coach Mark Turgeon, on playing at Penn State:
“I think Penn State has our full attention. ... They’re a good team, they’ve got good players, they play tough. They have one of the top players in the league—Stevens is a tough matchup, no one seems to be able to guard him. It’s just another tough road game in the Big Ten. So we’ve got to play better than we’ve played there the last couple years.”
KenPom: Maryland 69, Penn State 67
Me: Maryland 69, Penn State 61