The wins just keep on coming for Maryland men’s basketball.
The Terrapins earned their fifth consecutive victory Sunday afternoon, defeating Michigan State handily, 73-55. The win marked this first time that Maryland has beaten the Spartans at home since March 4, 2017.
After looking like it would miss the NCAA Tournament for much of this season, head coach Mark Turgeon’s squad is locked in to go dancing this March after this most recent win. The group now boasts a 15-10 record, including a 9-9 mark in Big Ten play, good enough for seventh place in the conference.
“[I’m] really proud of this team,” Turgeon said. “I didn’t see this coming this quickly, in five games getting to this point, but we’ve we’ve made a huge jump, obviously.”
Here are my three biggest takeaways from the team’s dominant performance against the Spartans.
The Terps set the tone with an impressive start
Michigan State was on a win streak of its own coming into this matchup, having upset the likes of Indiana, No. 5 Illinois and No. 4 Ohio State in its last three games. Given the hot hand and burst of confidence their opponent was riding, the Terps knew they had to come out firing, and that’s exactly what they did Sunday afternoon.
Maryland started the contest on an 11-0 run, kicked off by five points from Darryl Morsell, who was a game-time decision after resting all week with a shoulder injury he reaggravated last time out against Rutgers.
“It was good to get off to a good start. I think that set the tone for the game,” Morsell said. “That’s one of the reason I played, you know, I know what Michigan State about and I knew we had to come out here today with energy. And we had to hit them first. If you let them hit you first, it could be a long game. So for us to find rhythm and hit some shots early was big.”
Behind Morsell’s first three-pointer for the first points of the game, the Terps sunk five of their first six attempts beyond the arc. The team has struggled to shoot three-pointers consistently throughout the season, but that was anything but true against Michigan State, with Maryland ending the afternoon with a 50% mark from deep.
The same certainly couldn’t be said for the Spartans, who were completely stifled under the pressure of a hounding Terrapin defense. They didn’t find the back of the basket until a little under 14 minutes remained in the opening frame, and at that point Maryland had already established full control of the game.
The Terps never led by less than seven points in the first half after the 11-0 start and entered the break with a 35-25 advantage. They shot 11-of-25 (44%) in the half, including a 6-of-10 (60%) mark from deep, en route to the dominant win.
“That was pretty big, because...Michigan State’s a team that loves to come and fight,” Hakim Hart said. “We just had to punch them in the face first.”
The Maryland defense continues to excel
This Terrapin team has built its identity on the defensive end of the ball, with Sunday afternoon’s victory as the latest installment.
Maryland held Michigan State to 55 points, only allowing the team to make 19 of its 57 shots from the field (33%), including a 28.6% (8-for-26) clip from deep. The Terps haven’t allowed a team to shoot more than 42.9% from the field during their five-game win streak, and they also haven’t had an opponent shoot better than 44.6% since Jan. 23.
Sunday afternoon marked the 10th time that Maryland has held an opponent under 60 points and the fifth time its allowed 55 or fewer points. Additionally, the Terps have forced opposing teams into an average 58.8 points per game over the last five contests.
“It’s crazy though, cause we had some some rim protectors, you know with Bruno and Stix, but I think on-ball defense, like just straight up guarding the ball, I think this team is the best [of any in my Maryland career],” Morsell said. “We work so hard on it, we work on it every day, and it translates to games.”
The team especially locked down inside Sunday afternoon. The Spartans only scored 18 points in the paint, despite having averaged averaged 36 points in the paint across their last three games. It was their lowest total since 18 against Ohio State on Jan. 31.
Turgeon was particularly impressed with how his players maintained a tough presence down low, especially when it came to boxing out.
“It’s been real big for us. You know, we put our hard hat on the defensive end,” Eric Ayala said. “As a team, that’s what we count on going into games. ... Defensively, we feel really, really good on that end and confident.”
Donta Scott impacted every facet of the game
Eric Ayala had a game-high 22 points in a performance head coach Mark Turgeon dubbed his best of the season and three other players — Aaron Wiggins, Hakim Hart and Morsell finished in double figures, but the role Donta Scott played can’t be ignored.
The sophomore forward made his presence felt all over the court, finishing with seven points, a team-high eight rebounds and a team-high five assists in 30 minutes. He held his own down low and excelled on the defensive end throughout the afternoon, playing unselfishly to do whatever the team needed whenever he was on the court.
Scott’s play has been vital in the Terps’ five-game win streak. He’s averaged 8.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists across those five contests, all the while playing lockdown defense inside the paint despite not being a traditional big man at 6-foot-7.
“Today, when he was locked in, he was a great passer. I thought where he was the best is boxing out,” Turgeon said. “Because Malik Hall, last year when we played here, he knocked Donta on his butt the first two plays of the game. And Donta wasn’t having any of that today.”
He didn’t record a bucket in the first half, notching all seven of his points in the final frame, but his impact went well beyond scoring throughout the afternoon.
With a little under five minutes left in the first half, Scott began to bully his way into the paint with a defender at his back when Spartan guard A.J. Hogard came over for he double team. Without a second of hesitation, Scott passed the ball out to Eric Ayala beyond the arc, fooling Hogard as he floated the ball above his head and into the arms of his teammate. Ayala was then able to drain a triple with ease to extend Maryland’s lead to 10 points.
Scott continued to get his teammates easy looks throughout the game, timing passes perfectly to find guys open at just the right second in just the right place.
He also had key plays on both ends of the floor when it mattered most.
With Michigan State closing in with the score at 53-46 with under seven minutes left, Scott stood strong with both hands raised to stop Aaron Henry, who was storming into the paint for a layup. Spartan Joshua Langford managed to grab the rebound, but Scott simply wasn’t allowing him a bucket. He rose up behind the 6-foot-6 guard, blocking his shot with brute force.
Shortly after, Scott scored a crucial jumper, followed by a perfect kick out to Hart, who knocked down a triple to put the game out of reach. It was just another selfless and high IQ basketball play from the forward on the afternoon.