COLLEGE PARK — The hangover from the season’s toughest loss didn’t last long.
The Maryland men’s basketball team had a perfect antidote for whatever malaise it could have felt four days after a crushing defeat at Wisconsin. The Terps came out fast Saturday against Purdue as the ball moved, the shots fell and the lead quickly grew to double digits.
Maryland needed its defense too. After seeing an 18-point lead in the first half and a 16-point lead at halftime cut to just three, the No. 17 Terps locked down the Boilermakers in the last three minutes to hold on for a 57-50 victory.
“We needed a win. Obviously it’s an understatement,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said afterwards. “It’s a great win for us. We did a lot of things great. Probably the thing we did best is, coming off a tough loss on the road, a game we probably could have won, but we didn’t, our guys responded.”
Sophomore center Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) led Maryland (14-4, 4-3) with 18 points and 10 rebounds for his ninth double double of the season. Freshman Donta Scott added a career-high 13 points and six rebounds while sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins, in his second straight game off the bench, added 12 points and seven rebounds.
Junior guard Nojel Eastern led Purdue (10-8, 3-4) with 14 points.
Most telling to Turgeon was the way the Terps started. Playing against a Purdue team that had nearly a week to prepare after its 29-point destruction of then-No. 8 Michigan State at home, Maryland buried the Boilermakers early.
The Terps jumped to leads of 14-2, 20-4, 25-8 and and 28-10 en route to a 36-20 halftime lead. Coming in as one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the Big Ten — Maryland was shooting 30.1% overall and 29.3% in league games — seven of the first 11 3-pointers went in. The Terps also assisted on their first 10 baskets.
Asked how important it was to get off to a fast start, Wiggins said, “I thought it was really good for each individual. Eric (Ayala) hit a 3 coming out the gate. Stix [Smith] hit one. I hit two. Donta got hot. ... For all of us, it was really big as individuals just to see shots go in.”
And when the shots stopped dropping (7 of 25, 0 for 9 on 3-pointers in the second half) and the ball stopped moving for most of the second half — in large part to Purdue’s going to a smaller lineup in order to cover Maryland’s shooters — the Terps relied on a defense that has carried them for most of the season.
“We’ve been locked in [defensively] four out of five games now, we laid an egg one night, I don’t like to talk about it. That team’s done pretty good since they beat us too,” Turgeon said, referring to an 18-point loss at Iowa on Jan. 10. “Our guys were dialed in. I knew defensively we were going to be locked in.”
Mostly it was Smith, who in playing a career-high 38 minutes was able to more than negate Purdue’s two-headed center, 6-foot-9, 270-pound sophomore Trevion Williams and 7-foot-3, 250-pound redshirt junior Matt Haarms.
Averaging nearly 22 points and over 13 rebounds combined, they together had 12 points and nine rebounds while shooting 6 of 14 to Smith’s 8 of 13, including 2 of 5 on 3-pointers. Smith blocked four shots and committed just one foul, coming as he tried to control an offensive rebound.
“I think it’s also a compliment to Jalen Smith, I think he did a good job defensively and did some really good things,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “His size at times bothered [them]. You just try to get them opportunities and try to get into the paint. ... I really thought at the end, Jalen Smith was the key for them.”
Said Turgeon, “It’s amazing what he’s doing. Now our team defense was good, especially in the first half on the post. Second half it was good at times and then it was just Stix doing his deal. ... He went head up on those kids, used his length, stayed down. His timing was terrific.”
Smith also had two critical baskets in the second half, a turnaround jumper on the baseline as the 30-second shot clock was about to expire and a a dunk off a feed from Wiggins with 2:06 left to push the lead to five. It came as Purdue was making its second-half comeback and they might have been the game’s biggest baskets.
Asked about his baseline shot, Smith said, “It was a huge shot. To be honest, I didn’t even really know where I was; so I just kind of [shot] it and adjusted as I was in the air. For it to fall down, it gave the team a lot more energy on defense.”
On the dunk, it helped that Wiggins saw Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic, who had just hit three free throws to cut Maryland’s lead to 53-50 with 3:52 left, fall down and Haarms come out to cover Wiggins, leaving Smith alone near the basket.
“I knew Stix would be wide open if they didn’t rotate, but I had to look for ‘Black’ [Darryl Morsell] on the opposite wing so he [Haarms] wouldn’t try to keep Stix from getting it,” Wiggins said. “The patience, staying on two feet, keeping my pivot [foot], I was able to find Stix wide open.”
Two subsequent free throws with 12 seconds left by senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr., whose season-low five points was offset by his season-high seven assists, sealed the game.
The Terps will be looking for their first road victory Tuesday at Northwestern and then play again on the road at Indiana a week from Sunday.
The win Saturday helped Maryland distance itself from the 56-54 loss at Wisconsin, when the Terps failed to execute an inbounds pass with 13 seconds left leading by one, then watched Badgers guard Brad Davison hit a corner 3 and Cowan miss a straightaway 3 right before the clock expired.
“It’s going to be an up-and-down season when you’re in a great league,” Turgeon said. “It was how they responded when everybody was thinking about how the world’s coming to an end, and writing about us and talking about us. We’re in our little bubble and we just try to get better.”
The Terps cooled off considerably in the second half after hitting seven of their first 11 shots to build a 28-10 and leading 36-20 at halftime. Maryland missed its last 13 3-point shots overall, including going 0 for 9 after halftime.
No. 17 Maryland 57, Purdue 50
PURDUE — Stefanovic 1-8 5-5 7, Eastern 6-11 2-2 14, Thompson 2-7 0-0 5, Hunter 4-7 0-0 10, Williams 4-10 0-0 8, Haarms 2-4 0-0 4, Proctor 0-4 0-0 0, Boudreaux 1-3 0-0 2, Wheeler 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 20-56 7-7 50.
MARYLAND — J.Smith 8-13 0-0 18, Cowan 1-8 3-4 5, Ayala 2-6 0-0 5, Morsell 1-6 2-4 4, Wiggins 4-9 2-2 12, Scott 5-8 1-1 13, Lindo 0-0 0-0 0, S.Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Marial 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-51 8-11 57.
Halftime—Maryland 36-20. 3-Point Goals—Purdue 3-17 (Hunter 2-5, Thompson 1-4, Proctor 0-1, Wheeler 0-2, Stefanovic 0-5), Maryland 7-24 (Scott 2-4, J.Smith 2-5, Wiggins 2-6, Ayala 1-4, Morsell 0-1, Cowan 0-4). Rebounds—Purdue 32 (Stefanovic 8), Maryland 32 (J.Smith 10). Assists—Purdue 7 (Stefanovic 3), Maryland 14 (Cowan 7). Total Fouls—Purdue 12, Maryland 12. A—16,099 (17,950).
Tuesday, 7 p.m.
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