No. 10-seed Maryland men’s basketball was able to hold its own against No. 7-seed Connecticut en route to a 63-54 victory Saturday night.
The Terps had one of their best showings of the season offensively and seemed to have some of the most fun of this campaign in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With a second round matchup against No. 2-seed Alabama looming, the Terps do have things to clean up as well.
“Going into these games, we definitely want to play Maryland basketball,” junior guard Eric Ayala said. “Coach Turgeon emphasized that a lot this year, just not really worrying about so much the other team — we do scouting reports and we prepare. But it’s really about being the best Maryland team you could be.”
Here are my takeaways from the action.
Maryland had one of its best shooting nights of the season
Despite letting UConn back in the game down the stretch, the Terps ended Saturday’s game with one of their most efficient scoring displays of the season.
Maryland converted on 22-of-43 (51.2%) field goals, 9-of-18 (50%) three-point shots and 10-of-14 (71.4%) of free throws in the win.
“Sometimes we get a little bit selfish and we don’t move the ball,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “And it’s constantly just move the ball, move your bodies. Try to get downhill, play inside/out, make the right decision. It’s a constant fight. And, you know, at this time of year you’ve got to get a great shot for your team every possession. And we did a pretty good job at that”
This effort marks only the third time this season that the Terps shot over 50% from the floor and three-point range.
Maryland’s second game of the season against Navy was the team’s best effort, shooting 68.2% from the field, 53.3% from three and 73.7% from the free throw line. The other occurrence came at home against Minnesota on Feb. 14, when the Terps shot 52.9% from the field, 50% from three and 72.7% from the foul line.
“Credit to them again by just shooting the ball really well,” UConn forward Isaiah Whaley said. “We knew they got really good players. So we try to let the players that don’t shoot like the highest percentages shoot a little bit more. But credit to them. They even made shots, too.”
Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Donta Scott combined for 49 of Maryland’s 63 points, but important buckets from Darryl Morsell and Hakim Hart helped keep the Huskies honest on defense.
The Terps struggled to rebound once again
Without a considerable presence down low, Maryland continues to get beat up on the boards and Saturday was a clear showing of that.
Connecticut outrebounded the Terps 40-29, including a 28-15 margin through the first half. The Huskies also pulled down 22 offensive rebounds, 18 of which came in the first half, which is tied for the most Maryland has allowed since joining the Big Ten. The only other time was against Rutgers in a 67-55 loss on Jan. 24, 2017.
Saturday marked the 15th time this season that the Terps have been outrebounded by their opponent.
“I think where we were fortunate tonight is on those 18 offensive rebounds in the first half,” Turgeon said. “They hardly had any second-chance points. And they only had four in the second half.”
UConn was able to pad its number with those 22 offensive rebounds, but the majority came on grabbing missed shots in the paint and trying to put those chances right back up. The Huskies finished the night with 22 more shot attempts than the Terps, shooting 21-of-65 (32.3%) from the field, and 11 second chance points with put-backs not falling. Though their first seven points of the game came that way.
“When you miss that amount of shots — I’ve never seen a team get 18 offensive rebounds in a half, I just think the amount of close-knit shots we missed I think rattled us,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said.
Maryland was able to focus on rebounding long misses in the second half instead of expending energy fighting at the rim, winning the second half battle, 14-12.
Darryl Morsell led the way for the Terps with seven boards, while Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala and Hakim Hart each added five rebounds on the night.
Alabama’s pace, averaging 76.9 possessions per game, allows the Crimson Tide to shoot the ball about 64 times per game, meaning the Terps will have to be ready to grab boards consistently Monday night.
Maryland’s bench was nonexistent in the first round
The Terps have played a short bench since the turn of the year, but especially got little to no offensive production from their rotation Saturday night.
Turgeon deployed the services of Jairus Hamilton, Galin Smith and Reese Mona against UConn, but the bench combined to shoot 0-for-3 from the floor with Smith scoring the only bench point with a second half free throw.
Hamilton provided the most rest for Maryland’s starters with 16 minutes on the floor, while Smith added seven and Mona had five. Smith also added a rebound and Mona assisted a Morsell three, but those were all of the contributions off the bench.
“They’re going to have to [be better],” Turgeon said. “Obviously Galin is going to be excited. He comes from Alabama, he knows those guys. They know his game, too. But it would be nice. And then Jairus never really got in the flow tonight, but he’s a big part of who we are. I imagine his minutes will go up... It’s quick turnaround but it’s not back-to-back. So we’ve got probably a little less than 48 hours to get ready. But we need all eight for us to be successful.”
Hamilton has averaged 6.5 points and Smith has put up 3.1 points per game across 20.3 and 13.9 minutes per game, respectively. Both transfers have shown an ability to produce offensively, combining for 10 double-digit outings.
Maryland has survived down the stretch of this season thanks to its starting five, particularly Ayala and Wiggins, but will need more than blank minutes from the bench Monday night.