Sitting on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble with seven games left in the season, Maryland men’s basketball was in dire need of a win against Minnesota Sunday night.
The Terps’ desperation showed right away as they came out with a strong effort to have a fighting chance down the stretch, and it lasted throughout the first half.
With 12:57 left in the opening period and Maryland already a sizeble lead, Galin Smith rose up and let out a yell as he swatted away a layup attempt by Jamal Mashburn Jr. and hustled back down the floor. On the other end, Eric Ayala found Smith alone inside and tossed him the ball, leading to a monstrous slam. The Terps had jumped out to a 14-point lead, putting head coach Rich Pitino and his squad in a bind early.
Maryland’s first half effort, exemplified by Smith’s sequence, set the tone for the team’s dominant play in the much-needed 72-59 victory over Minnesota.
“[That sequence] was the perfect example of defense leads to offense,” Smith said. “[That] gave us a lot of energy, you know, going on to the other end, my teammate did a really good job of finding me... Those plays like that’ll be really big for us.”
The 13-point victory marks the Terps’ second-highest win margin in Big Ten play so far this season, outdoing their previous high of 14, which also came against the Golden Gophers. They also ended the night shooting 52.9% from the floor, its best mark in conference play this season.
The Terps came out running early despite nearly a week between games, taking an 11-3 lead after 4:51 of play. Minnesota 7-foot center Liam Robbins was doubled hard, causing two turnovers, and he also notched two fouls during this stretch.
As the offense kept coming, Smith’s block and slam on back-to-back possessions helped the Terps climb out to a 20-6 advantage and put the Golden Gophers on their heels early.
“I always tell the guys you know, defense wins championships,” Morsell said. “So if we locked in defensively, I think defense also helps our offense. We get stops, we get out and run and go in transition and stuff like that. So I always go into every game making sure we’re dialed-in defensively.”
Despite the pace slowing down a bit, Maryland continued to push ahead of Minnesota, forcing the Golden Gophers into a scoreless drought that lasted 4:34. The Terps held a commanding 29-12 lead at the under-eight timeout and a 31-14 lead with 3:54 left in the half.
With 1:15 to go in the first frame, Darryl Morsell cut hard through the lane and sank a touch and-one bucket with contact from Brandon Johnson. And though he missed the free throw attempt, Maryland continued to grind. Aaron Wiggins pulled down the board and got it back to Morsell as he cut for another lay-in.
Maryland led 44-27 after 20 minutes, thanks to a 17-of-29 (58.6%) shooting effort from the floor, which seven different players scoring. Minnesota shot a dreadful 8-of-27 (29.6%) from the field in the first frame, including just seven points from Marcus Carr and no offense from Robbins, thanks to the hounding Terrapin defense.
“We were good in the first half,” Turgeon said. “We shared the ball, moved the ball, we cut, we got them spaced. And we’re hard to garden that small lineup, you know, if we’re moving the ball and doing things the right way.”
The Terps returned to some of their old habits of sorts to start the second half with four turnovers in the first 5:07. Even with both teams struggling, Eric Ayala was able to sink two three-point tries to minimize Minnesota’s offensive efforts.
With 11:30 remaining, Jairus Hamilton received a pass at the top of the key and let it fly due to separation, nailing his first three of the contest. Maryland finished the game shooting 50% percent from long-range, close to the teams best effort in Big Ten play of 59.1 percent against Michigan.
The Terps easily coasted through the second half, though they didn’t always play at the same intensity as they did in the first.
Minnesota went on an 8-0 run in less than two minutes in the last six minutes of play, shortening Maryland’s advantage to 65-56.
A few minutes later, the Golden Gophers had scored 11-straight points to shorten the deficit to six. The Terps had led as much as 19 points in the first half.
With the shot clock down to just two seconds and 2:42 remaining, Wiggins was forced to throw up a shot attempt from 24 feet out with a man in his face, but he sank the dagger to end the Minnesota streak and increase the lead back to nine. The game was all but over from there as the team picked up a crucial victory to kick off its stretch of three games in four days.
Three things to know
1. The Terps locked-in to stop Marcus Carr and Liam Robbins. Maryland forced Minnesota to get its offense in different ways, focusing on top bucket-scorers Marcus Carr and Liam Robbins. Carr averaged 19.9 points and 5.4 assists per game, while Robbins brought 13.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game to the table.
On defense, the Terps used Darryl Morsell as a tight one-on-one defender against Carr while also doubling down on Robbins when he got the ball. That suffocating effort limited the two to nine and two points, respectively. Carr also only had one assist, while Robbins was limited to three rebounds.
“Darryl really likes guarding [Carr] and takes on the challenge, uses his height against him,” Turgeon said. “[Carr] didn’t get a lot of good looks, split a couple times, but I thought our help defense on him was great. I thought our transition defense except for a couple possessions was really good.”
2. Turnovers were less of an issue, but not perfect. The Terps did well to limit turnovers on the offensive end in the first half, with both teams having four through 20 minutes.
The second half was more of the same for Maryland as seen throughout this season with four turnovers in the first 5:07 of second half. The Terps finished with 11 turnovers, just slightly less than their season average of 11.2 per game.
3. Maryland excelled on the defensive boards. The Terps faced a height disadvantage, but they didn’t let them stop them in this one. Head coach Mark Turgeon has emphasized the importance of boxing out to his team all season, and it showed Sunday night. Maryland dominated on the defensive glass, ending the night with 30 defensive rebounds compared to 20 by Minnesota.