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TT Court Vision: Maryland narrowly avoids upset against Nebraska after late game struggles

We take to the film room to examine key plays that led to the Terps’ win over the Cornhuskers.

Jalen Smith block, Nebraska, 2020 Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Welcome back to the Testudo Times film room. After blowing a 13-point halftime lead, No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball barely squeaked by a far inferior Nebraska team by a score of 72-70 to improve to 20-4 on the season, 10-3 in the Big Ten and extend its win streak to seven games.

At halftime, it seemed that the Terps would be well on their way to a comfortable home win that allowed for key players to get some rest before this weekend’s clash with Michigan State, but a lethargic and sloppy effort in the second half proved otherwise.

Maryland was lucky to win this game and remain undefeated at home. Head coach Mark Turgeon and his team should use this game as a learning experience to not take any opponent lightly.

Let’s take a look at all the impact plays from the win.

Play of the game

If it weren’t for Jalen Smith’s efforts on this play, we very well could be looking at a Maryland team coming off of its worst loss of the season. Smith was everything for the Terps on this play, and it really summed up how important and clutch he has been for this team throughout the season.

Anthony Cowan Jr. got beat off the dribble by Cam Mack, who was able to get to the rim with ease. Smith and Darryl Morsell slid over to help ensure that Mack would not get a clean look around the rim, and Smith came away with the game saving rejection.

This was the sophomore’s only block of the game, and it was certainly one of his most important plays of the season.

Poor execution down the stretch

The last minute of this game was quite frankly terrible in all facets of the game. Missed free throws, poor inbounds plays and bad defense allowed for Nebraska to nearly wipe away a seven-point deficit in under a minute.

On this play, Smith and Ayala either had a miscommunication or Smith did not want to bother popping out and defending the three-pointer. Smith’s inability to switch with Ayala on the pick-and-pop allowed for Nebraska to get a wide open look from downtown to bring the game within four points.

On the very next play, Maryland turned the ball right back over to Nebraska, who ended up going to the line and bringing the game within three points. This play had shades of the end of the game at Wisconsin from a few weeks ago, but fortunately for Maryland, the final result was different this time around.

The biggest issue on this inbounds play was Cowan forcing the pass back to fellow guard Aaron Wiggins after he received the ball. Although the trap was coming and Cowan was not in an ideal spot, in a situation like this, he has to try to make a play, instead of throwing the dangerous pass that was picked off.

This play was probably the biggest head scratcher of the entire last minute. Maryland decided to foul Nebraska in an effort to prevent them from getting a three-point look, but did so with far too much time left on the clock.

This strategy really only works with less than five or six seconds on the clock, and it ended up completely backfiring for the Terps. Mack went on to make both free throws, and then Cowan missed his free throw on the other end, which allowed for Nebraska to get the potential game winning look that was blocked by Smith.

This last minute of the game should be a good learning experience for the Terps in order to continue improving their late game execution.

Eric Ayala had his best game of the season

After a really tough showing against Rutgers that resulted in some late night shooting practice, we saw Eric Ayala look a lot better in the win against Illinois and Tuesday against Nebraska. In this game, Ayala continued to look more confident and more like the player Terp fans got used to seeing last season.

On this play, the sophomore utilized a simple backdoor cut to get open. He sensed that his man had a mental lapse defensively and was able to use it to his advantage to pick up the easy bucket.

Maryland also could have had a really nice look if Cowan would have kicked it back to Smith for the three point attempt, but he chose the easy, high percentage look instead.

The most obvious positive from Ayala’s performance was his sharp shooting from three-point range. Ayala finished this game with 16 points on 4-for-8 shooting from downtown, making his most shots from deep all year.

On this play, Maryland ran its usual motion around the perimeter and Cowan was able to find Ayala for a wide open look from three. Donta Scott did a great job of coming over and setting a screen on Ayala’s man to ensure that his teammate had a good look.

Jalen Smith continued to be a force for the Terps

We saw this pump fake mid-range jumper from Smith in Maryland’s last game against Illinois, and we will continue to see this play as the season moves along.

As opponents begin to realize how deadly Smith is from deep, they will do a better job at closing out on him and making sure he does not get wide open looks. This in turn will allow for Smith to fake out of the three and either take a mid-range jumper like he did here, or drive to the basket for a layup or runner.

One of Nebraska’s biggest weaknesses as a team is its lack of size, and Maryland did not do a good enough job of taking advantage of this. On this play however, the Terps fully took hold of the size mismatches and it worked well for them.

Cowan threw a perfect entry pass to Smith, who had a much smaller man on him. Nebraska brought help defense over, but it was no match for the 6’10 Smith, who easily converted the shot off the glass.

Smith finished the game with another stellar line that included 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field, 13 rebounds and one crucial block that saved the game for the Terps.

Donta Scott seems to be coming alive

After going through some struggles recently, Scott put together a solid game against Illinois and topped it off with an even better performance against Nebraska. The freshman from Philadelphia seems to be a lot more comfortable offensively and is getting a lot open looks than he had been.

This play displayed some of the best ball movement the Terps had all night. Maryland brought the ball up in transition and kicked it around the perimeter. Scott was trailing after recording the rebound at the other end and was able to get the wide open look at the top of the key. Scott finished the game with a strong 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting from the field and 10 boards, recording the first double-double of his career.