No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball kept its winning streak going on Tuesday, as it held on to beat Northwestern, 76-67, for its ninth straight victory.
Here’s what stood out from the Terps’ latest triumph.
1. The Terps passed effectively and efficiently
In his eight prior seasons as head coach of Maryland, Mark Turgeon’s teams tended to have a similar problem — they gave the ball away. Often.
But this Terps squad has been different, taking care of the ball at a rate not before seen in Turgeon’s tenure. And against Northwestern, they had arguably their cleanest passing performance of the season.
Maryland committed just five turnovers Tuesday night, matching its season-low, which first occurred on Jan. 26 against Indiana. However, the Terps found a way to best that performance, racking up 17 assists this time out compared to 14 against the Hoosiers a few weeks ago.
“Our execution in our half-court offense was great. Sharing the ball, getting to the foul line, spacing,” Turgeon said. “We shared the ball yesterday in practice, [and I was] like, ‘Woah, this is fun to watch.’ And they started that way again [tonight], and it’s contagious.”
The guards were particularly efficient, as the trio of Anthony Cowan Jr., Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins combined for 10 assists with zero turnovers.
And Darryl Morsell had a career-high seven assists — with just two giveaways — as he continues to showcase his constantly improving facilitating skills.
“The game’s slowing down for me,” Morsell said. “I know we’re good when we take care of the ball. It’s really hard to beat us when we get a shot every possession. That’s just been my main focus, just trying to make sure we get a shot every possession.”
If Maryland is going to continue its march towards a Big Ten title, taking care of the ball will be crucial. And during this nine-game winning streak, the Terps have done a great job at doing just that.
2. Donta Scott continues to impress
Scott has already exceeded the expectations of many, becoming essentially a full-time starter in his first season in College Park. After getting the nod in just one of his first 11 collegiate games, he’s since started 15 straight, including Tuesday night’s game.
And while he’s primarily been a rebound-and-defense forward who specializes in toughness, Scott has come into his own offensively as of late, and that continued against Northwestern.
In just 20 minutes of action — more on that in a bit — Scott poured in 12 points, one shy of his career-high of 13 set against Purdue on Jan. 18. And he did it efficiently as well, going 5-of-8 from the floor — including hitting two of his three three-point attempts.
Donta Scott for threeeeee to give Maryland some breathing room. pic.twitter.com/IrAfPi9Hze— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) February 19, 2020
“It’s helped us [open up] a lot more,” Jalen Smith said of Donta’s shooting. “He’s just been in the gym, consistently working on his jump shot — late hours — and he’s starting to become more consistent. Every day, I keep telling him to keep shooting no matter if you feel like you’re going to miss it. Just shoot it.”
It’s been a solid stretch for the freshman, who now has 31 points over his last three games and seems to be finding a groove at the right time for the Terps.
“Basically, I had to just find where I was comfortable at,” Scott said. “Now I’m starting to get my groove and starting to find where I can make the game easy for myself. So every game I’m getting better and better.”
But with inexperience comes some sloppy mistakes, which was the only damper on Scott’s night. He picked up two fouls in the first four-plus minutes of the game, which kept sidelined for most of the first half. And then he picked up his third just over a minute into the second half, which factored into his limited minutes on the night.
Foul troubles aside, Scott has continued to do everything asked of him so far this season. And with postseason play right around the corner, his continued development will be crucial to the team’s success.
3. Three-point shooting is still a concern
On Tuesday night, the Terps won in spite of their shooting, not because of it. Cowan did his usual thing, going an efficient 2-of-5 from beyond the arc.
But the team as a whole managed to finish just 8-of-30 — a 26.7 percent clip — on three-pointers, and the usual suspects failed to step up once again.
The duo of Ayala and Wiggins went an uninspiring 2-of-11 from deep, continuing their slides after each had a resurgent stretch earlier in the win streak. However, they were able to contribute in other ways in the face of poor shooting, combining for five assists and no turnovers while playing solid defense.
“They didn’t panic,” Turgeon said. “The good thing is we can win by double figures when those two shoot the ball the way they shot it. ... No panic out of them. And our guys just continue to play with poise, and they didn’t let those shots affect the rest of their game.”
And as good as Smith has been from long range — he paced the Big Ten in three-point percentage during conference play for a while — he had a bit of an off night, making just one of his five attempts, though that could just be a blip on an otherwise-perfect night for the sophomore big.
Back in late January, as Maryland was struggling to find its shot, Turgeon made a bold proclamation.
“Who knows, we might be the best shooting team in the league the next five weeks,” he said on Jan. 24. “We’re capable, right?”
And while the Terps have improved from beyond the arc from when he said that three-and-a-half weeks ago, the margin has been slight at best.
After the latest performance — a rather ghastly one at that — against the Wildcats, the team is shooting 33 percent over its last seven games. If prorated over a full season, that would place Maryland eighth in the Big Ten and tie it for 186th in the country.
So far, the Terps have found ways to win without having a consistent three-point offense, so perhaps that can continue going forward. But it’s certainly disconcerting that the team still seems lost more often than not when it comes to shooting from deep.