Maryland men’s basketball has spent most of Big Ten play traveling through the midwest, and Tuesday’s matchup with Purdue will have a somewhat similar setting with a blanket or snow over campus in College Park.
The Boilermakers ascended to No. 24 in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, making Tuesday the Terps’ eighth Big Ten game overall and sixth conference game in a row against a ranked team. The team has faced nine opponents that currently ranked or receiving votes in its first 10 conference matchups.
Projected as a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament, developing consistency and finding their identity will be crucial for the Terps.
“We can’t think about March. We’re too inconsistent,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “So we got to think about... we’re gonna have the best practice today we can possibly have, we’re gonna take it one game at a time and we’re gonna do the best in that game.”
Tuesday’s matchup between the Terps and Boilermakers will tip off at 6:30 p.m. and be broadcasted on Big Ten Network.
What happened last time
On Christmas Day, Maryland traveled to West Lafayette, Indiana as it dove fully into Big Ten play.
Turgeon and his staff continued to tinker with the starting lineup, using Eric Ayala, Hakim Hart, Aaron Wiggins, Donta Scott and Jairus Hamilton to try and find what rotation worked best.
Maryland struggled early, scoring just 28 points in the first 20 minutes, 11 of which came from Ayala, and sporting a 2-for-10 effort from the free-throw line.
The Boilermakers came out in complete opposite fashion, firing from long range and getting out to a 13-point lead at halftime behind a 7-for-13 effort beyond the arc.
In the second half, Maryland fought back from a deficit as high as 15 points. Donta Scott scored all of his 15 points in the second half and helped put the Terps in prime position to win.
Similar to the first half, however, the Terps missed crucial opportunities at the charity stripe. Darryl Morsell went to the line with his team down 72-70 with 19 seconds left. He missed both of his attempts and Maryland was unable to complete the comeback after Purdue tacked one more on at the line to close out the 73-70 victory.
“It definitely was something that was motivation,” Morsell said. “You know, growing up and just being a basketball player at the highest level, you want the ball in your hands in those positions. You work to be successful in those positions. And me personally, I was unsuccessful in the opportunities that I had late that game. So it definitely was used as motivation moving forward.”
With the tinkering of lineups, Maryland showed its hand that the team was still looking to find its way forward, but used it as an opportunity to grow.
“Well, we’ve gotten a lot better. I’m sure they have too since that game,” Turgeon said “We were still trying to find ourselves a little bit. We learned a lot about ourselves in that game.”
What has happened since
The roller coaster ride that is Maryland basketball really started to take its twist and turns after Purdue, as the Terps have put up a 4-5 record since, including three road wins against ranked opponents.
Maryland immediately followed the Purdue matchup with a win at Wisconsin, but then losses to Michigan, Indiana and Iowa followed. The next wins at Illinois and home against Division II Wingate preceded a loss at Michigan. The Terps then had another road upset at Minnesota, but then lost its rematch with the Badgers at home.
The Terps have failed to put together their identity on the floor, lacking a true post presence in a conference dominated by big talent. It seems that Turgeon and his staff are starting to get a handle on operating with small lineups, but consistency will be the key down the stretch.
Purdue has faced similar ups and downs this season since facing Maryland, but ascension and declines have been much more stable.
After taking down the Terps, Painter’s squad lost road matchups against Rutgers and Illinois. A postponement against Nebraska allowed the team a chance to reset before they went on to win four in a row, including a narrow victory against the then-No. 15 Ohio State Buckeyes.
A loss at home to Michigan and win at home against Minnesota preceded the Boilermakers’ trip to College Park, where they find themselves sneaking in at No. 24 in the AP Poll for the first time this season.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland slow down Brandon Newman? Last time out, Newman led Purdue with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including a 3-of-6 mark from three-point range. The redshirt freshman is coming off a career-high 29-point performance against Minnesota Saturday and continuing his success against the Terps will be on his mind.
“He can score the ball pretty well,” Ayala said. “It’s going to take a team effort... I think as a team we have the personality to guard anybody in the country, so I’m looking forward to going out there and playing Maryland basketball on offense and defense.”
2. How will the Terps handle Trevion Williams in the paint? In a league dominated by big men, Williams sticks out as his 6-foot-10, 265-pound frame provides pure brute force in the paint. Rather than acting as a stretch five, Williams earns his 15.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game the hard way, outbattling his opponents inside. Last time out Hamilton and Galin Smith did their part getting Williams in foul trouble, but a new plan may need to be implemented inside.
“We did a nice job on their post players, their low-post players are terrific,” Turgeon said. “And they they’re hard to guard, man, they got great low-post game. They got really good shooters. They run good stuff. They’re hard to guard, so they really challenge you. And hopefully we will be locked in and ready to guard them all night.”
3. Will Maryland finally get a key win at home? The Terps have been able to answer the challenge of ranked teams on the road, but have struggled at home. Despite a 6-4 record at Xfinity Center, Maryland has not beaten a Division I opponent at home since December 22. With the back end of Big Ten play getting easier, a strong win at home against Purdue would allow the Terps some key momentum moving forward.