Maryland men’s basketball continues to pull off the unimaginable this season, winning its third road game against an AP Top 25 opponent for the first time in program history in its 63-49 victory over No. 17 Minnesota on Saturday.
After attempting the same feat and coming up short against No. 7 Michigan on Tuesday, the Terps walked into The Barn in Minneapolis and bullied the Gophers into submission, culminating in a wire-to-wire win and its fifth straight victory over Minnesota since 2018.
Led by a resurgent Eric Ayala, who scored a team-high 21 points on 57.1 percent shooting, Maryland moved to 9-7 on the season and 3-6 in Big Ten play.
Here are my biggest takeaways.
Donta Scott controlled the paint
Playing in its second consecutive road game in which the team had to travel over 1,500 miles in less than a week, head coach Mark Turgeon looked for a way to give his guys a spark right at the outset of Saturday’s contest.
He did so by rolling with a small-ball lineup right out of the gate, starting four guards in Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Hakim Hart and Darryl Morsell, and sliding the 6-foot-7 Donta Scott to the five spot. Scott has started in 13 of the team’s 16 games so far this season, but has been paired with a more traditional big man in Galin Smith in each of those starts.
As Terps’ tallest player on the floor for most of the game, Scott did everything Maryland needed him to do, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Running a zone look with Scott entrenched on the low block, the sophomore did an outstanding job on multiple occasions at hedging on Minnesota screens and recovering back to his original position.
“Donta was very physical to start the game,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “It just kind of rubs off on everybody else.”
He also did an admirable at defending at the rim without fouling, picking up just one personal foul on the afternoon despite playing 36 minutes. The same couldn’t be said for Minnesota’s starting center Liam Robbins, who spent the better part of the second half on the bench with four fouls before fouling out with 4:41 left.
After a performance in which he was held to a season-low one rebound against the Wolverines earlier in the week, Scott put forth a fantastic effort on the glass against the Gophers. Against a team that ranks inside the top-35 in Division I in rebounding, Scott posted a game-high 11 rebounds, including a few timely offensive boards that helped the Terps put the game away.
When Maryland’s defense is locked in, look out
After Maryland’s third upset win on Saturday, Turgeon noted that there has been one constant throughout all three.
“The common denominator is defense,” Turgeon said. “We beat Illinois at 63, we beat Wisconsin at 64, and then today they had 49. So it really came down the defense and all three of those games.”
The Terps’ have certainly put forth strong defensive efforts in the past, but their defense against Minnesota was by far the best of showing of the season. One of the leading reasons for Michigan’s 87-point performance earlier in the week, the second most points the team has allowed in a game this season, was because Maryland struggled in its rotations on the perimeter.
It was a different story against the Gophers, though, as Maryland swarmed Minnesota’s shooters whenever they got a decent look from the outside. The Terps’ guard corps contested many of their opponents’ three-point attempts, even getting a finger tip on a few as well.
“Our rotations were better tonight,” Turgeon said. “We just keep showing them on film, and we just gotta keep doing it. We can’t be an every other game type team.”
As a result, Minnesota shot just 5-of-23 (21.7%) from beyond the arc on Saturday, its second-worst three-point shooting performance of the season. Scoring wasn’t easy to find anywhere else on the floor either, with the Gophers shooting just 14-for-46 (30.4%) from the field.
This year’s Maryland team has been desperate for an identity as the season has progressed, but if it can find a way to defend like this on a consistent basis, the Terps could become a defense-first type of team.
“We all dogs, man,” Morsell said. “A team full of dogs and we built for this. We love coming in to other arenas and just leaving our mark.”
Aaron Wiggins’ contributions go beyond the stat sheet
For the better part of Big Ten play, Aaron Wiggins has been Maryland’s go-to scorer. Over the last five games, Wiggins has averaged 16.6 points per game and shot over 35% from three-point range.
But Saturday’s game was one where Wiggins struggled to establish himself offensively, instead giving way to Ayala to lead to the scoring attack. The junior guard ended up scoring just eight points on the afternoon, shooting 3-for-8 from the field while failing to connect on a three-pointer for the second straight game.
But even in games wheres Wiggins’ shots aren’t falling, he still finds ways to help his team achieve the ultimate goal: winning the game.
“He’s all about winning.” Turgeon said. “He’s been doing it all year, and hopefully he keeps playing with confidence starts knocking down a few more shots.”
An area that Wiggins was particularly taken to in this one was on the glass. Coming in averaging just over five rebounds per game so far this season, Wiggins pulled down 10 rebounds on Saturday, his second double-digit rebounding performance of the season.
And whether he’s got it going offensively or not, Wiggins figures to always be involved in what the team’s doing on that end of the floor. He chipped in as a facilitator, finishing with a team-high four assists. His mere presence on the floor alone creates opportunities for his teammates as well, with opponents knowing that Wiggins has to be accounted for wherever he is on the floor.
“He gets so much attention,” Ayala said. “People will close out on him, and he drives the gaps start to open up. So he’s a very unselfish player, and he’s willing to go out there and do whatever it takes to win.”