The most wonderful time of the year is back, as Big Ten men’s basketball conference play gets into full swing.
Maryland will head to West Lafayette, Indiana, to take on the Purdue Boilermakers in a Christmas Day matchup, marking the second time that the Terps have faced off on the holiday, with the other coming at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1984 against Iowa.
Head coach Mark Turgeon and his squad bounced back into the win column on Tuesday with an 84-71 victory over La Salle, changing the mindset of the team.
“I feel like not even necessarily after La Salle, just after the losses that we’ve had,” Galin Smith said. “Learning from those and taking from those and just going into every game with a different attitude.”
After back-to-back losses against Clemson and No. 11 Rutgers, the latest victory gives the Terps a chance to build positive momentum with a deep schedule looming. Four of Maryland’s next six games come against top-25 opponents, including two more before the end of 2020.
“I think [we should] just try and take it one game at a time,” Eric Ayala said. “With COVID and stuff, who’s to say we have another game? I’m just looking forward to playing against Purdue and just going out there, playing Maryland basketball. Now that we’re in Big Ten play, these games will get tougher. Everybody’s good, so just trying to go out there and compete to the best of our abilities.”
Tipoff between Maryland and Purdue is set for 2:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.
Purdue Boilermakers (6-3, 1-1 Big Ten)
2019-20 record: 16-15 (9-11 Big Ten)
Head coach Matt Painter has been a mainstay in the Big Ten, leading the Purdue Boilermakers since 2005.
Painter led the program deep in the NCAA Tournament during the 2018-19 season, ending up just one win away from the Final Four. Despite losing some key players, Purdue showed some promise last season, defeating three top-25 opponents by 25 or more points. In restocking the program, the Boilermakers have no seniors this season and will be primed with experience next season.
Players to Know
1. Trevion Williams, junior forward, 6-foot-10, 265 lbs. No. 50 — The clear leader for Purdue offensively, Williams has averaged 13.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game so far this season. Williams has put together two double-doubles already, including a 30-point, 11-rebound effort against Indiana State 12 days ago.
2. Sasha Stefanovic, junior guard, 6-foot-5, 200 lbs. No. 55 — Stefanovic is one of two Boilermakers to have started in each of the team’s nine games this season. Despite being a junior, he holds a leadership role as one of the oldest members on the team, and in the backcourt in particular. Stefanovic averages 12 points, 3.1 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 31.9 minutes per game, while also being a threat from long-range, converting 28-for-56 (50 %) attempts this season.
3. Eric Hunter Jr., junior guard, 6-foot-4, 170 lbs. No. 2 — Hunter has exploded onto the scene in December after sitting out for the first four games of this season. He has started four games and played in five this month, averaging 12.2 points, 4.0 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 31.2 minutes of action per game. Slowing down Hunter will be key to shaking up the backcourt.
Defense. The Boilermakers on average give up 65.6 points per game, ranking No. 5 in the Big Ten, despite playing a league-high nine games so far this season. Maryland has struggled offensively against Power Five opponents, and Friday’s matchup could be trouble if the Terps can’t generate points consistently.
“Our execution is getting better,” Turgeon said. “Our guys are doing a good job of that. Gotta make some shots early. They are a good defensive team, especially in that building.”
Turnovers. Purdue enters Friday’s game with a turnover margin of -1.44, good for 11th in the Big Ten so far this season. The Boilermakers in particular struggle with giving possessions away, averaging 14.2 turnovers per game. If Maryland can take advantage of extra possessions and not hand the ball back over, it could spell beneficial down the stretch.
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Maryland continue its positive trajectory? The Terps dropped the ball against Clemson and Rutgers transitioning from mid-major to Power Five competition. After an 84-71 victory over La Salle, the team has a chance to continue pushing in a positive direction. Building momentum will be key, as the Terps face ranked opponents in four of their next five games after Friday.
2. How will minutes be split? Maryland’s losses to Clemson and Rutgers didn’t allow the coaching staff to spread minutes around, leaving the question as to how things will be divided in close games. With routine conference play here, Friday’s game should be a chance for Turgeon and his staff to work out how much each player will see the floor.
3. Who will win the battle inside? Maryland will see its first matchup against extreme height as the Boilermakers will trot out 7-foot-4, 285-pound center Zach Edey (No. 15). Purdue has been able to get 14.6 minutes per game out of Edey so far this season, seeing him average 10.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per outing, showing that the freshman may be more adjusted to the college game than Chol Marial is. The main question is whether or not Turgeon will try to match the two together on the floor, or trust Galin Smith and other forwards to get the job done.
“[Edey]’s been terrific,” Turgeon said. “I don’t see a lot of non-muscle on him, I think he’s in pretty good shape. They use him the right way. He keeps the ball high and ducks in and around the rim and he’s so big, it’s hard to do things with him.”
Vegas: Purdue -5.5 (O/U 137.5)
ESPN BPI: Purdue 64.5% chance to win
KenPom: Purdue 70, Maryland 67 (Maryland 37% chance to win)
Me: Purdue 70, Maryland 66