In a men’s basketball season filled with injuries to key players and a long road losing streak, Maryland finally has bookend wins — the Terps started and finished the Big Ten road schedule with victories after beating Northwestern at Allstate Arena on Monday night.
There wasn’t much of a postgame celebration for the Terps and coach Mark Turgeon, according to sophomore guard Kevin Huerter, with a home game Saturday against No. 17 Michigan that is suddenly more meaningful..
While the win came against a Northwestern team that played without senior guard Bryant McIntosh — a team that has now lost four straight — it still helped the Terps climb over a rather large psychological hump.
Here are some observations and opinions from Maryland’s 71-64 win over the Wildcats:
Offense spreads and shreds
The Terps have looked pretty good offensively for more than a month, but what they were able to do in the second half could bode well in the Big Ten tournament depending on matchups.
Given that Maryland could meet up again with Northwestern or even face Wisconsin in the second round in New York, the Terps should have an advantage athletically on either team.
According to Huerter and sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., Turgeon put in an offense for the second half Monday that he hadn’t used all season.
While the Terps were hesitant to give away exactly what they had done differently over the last 20 minutes, it came down to spreading the floor and attacking the basket rather than settling for 3-point shots or turning the ball over.
Maryland hit 14 of 25 field-goal attempts in erasing its halftime deficit, which grew quickly to 11 early in the second half. The Terps also did a better job switching on ball screens defensively to close out on shooters, evidenced by the Wildcats shooting 2-for-10 after going 8-for-15 in the first half.
The biggest difference in the second half was the play of redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley and Cowan, who each scored 11 of his 13 points after halftime. Huerter also had 11 in the second half to finish with a team-high 18, which means the three guards combined for 33 of Maryland’s 41 second-half points.
Freshman guard Darryl Morsell said after fellow freshman Bruno Fernando scored 18 points against Rutgers and 21 the previous game at Nebraska last week that his offensive emergence would help open things up for the guards.
It certainly did in the second half Monday.
Big plays from the freshmen
Though neither had a huge game against Northwestern, Fernando and Morsell had some big plays down the stretch.
Fernando finished with just nine points and six rebounds in 21 minutes after what he did the previous two games helped him earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
While he missed a pair of free throws that could have given the Terps a nine-point lead with 2:27 left, Fernando made a tough post turnaround earlier that had stretched the lead to four.
Morsell started the game missing all three shots he tried in the first half, and after making a lob dunk early in the second half he missed his next three shots.
But Morsell, who finished the game with six points, six assists and four rebounds in 38 minutes, made a difficult shot in the lane for a 60-56 lead and a pair free throws to seal the game.
Turgeon talked up his freshmen after the game and while their numbers weren’t as big as they’ve been in other road games, both came up big in Maryland’s first road win since Dec. 3.
A winning streak
Partly because of a schedule that never had the Terps playing two Big Ten home games in a row, and partly because of missed opportunities on the road, Maryland hadn’t won two straight games since beating UMBC on Dec. 29 and Penn State on Jan. 2.
Though two straight wins doesn’t seem like much, it’s huge psychologically for a team that saw its season turn for the worse after blowing a game at Michigan in the final seconds Jan. 15.
A win over the Wolverines on Saturday would certainly help Maryland forget what happened in Ann Arbor — that’s when Huerter’s go-ahead 3-pointer was spoiled by a defensive gaffe with under a second left — and it would give the Terps a 9-9 record in the Big Ten.
It would also add to a rather skimpy NCAA tournament resume — with an early-season home win over Butler still the biggest to date — and possibly provide the Terps with some momentum going into the Big Ten tournament next week in New York.
Beating Michigan won’t be easy, since aside from Michigan State, the Wolverines are probably playing better than anyone in the league.
It will certainly be interesting to see whether a team that has had a difficult time building any kind of momentum and winning streak the past couple of months can finally do that when it counts.
Unfortunately for the Terps, recent history is against them.
You only have to go back to what happened last season.
After losing three straight games that began when then-junior center Michal Cekovsky broke his ankle in a road loss at Wisconsin, Maryland won at Rutgers and then beat Michigan State at home on a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Melo Trimble.
Already a lock to go to the NCAA tournament after its school-record 20-2 start and its 7-2 Big Ten road record, Maryland then lost to Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament in what was essentially a home game at the Verizon Center.
The season then ended with a loss in the Round of 64 against No. 11 seed Xavier, which went on to reach the Sweet 16.
While a fourth straight NCAA tournament still seems a long shot, the Terps have shown a little more resilience at times this season than they did late last season. Building off what happened Monday against Northwestern is essential.