COLLEGE PARK — A knee injury hardly slowed Fatts Russell, and that proved timely for the Maryland men’s basketball team.
Despite missing almost the final nine minutes of the Terps’ romp over Lehigh on Tuesday night, the graduate student point guard scored 18 points — including 11 in the second half — to spark the team to an 81-67 win against visiting Brown on Thursday night before an announced 10,224 at the Xfinity Center.
Russell was one of four Maryland starters to reach double figures in points. He was joined by senior shooting guard Eric Ayala (22 points and eight rebounds), junior shooting guard Hakim Hart (17 points, four rebounds and four assists), and junior power forward Donta Scott (15 points and eight rebounds). Those efforts helped Maryland improve to 8-4 and collect its first three-game winning streak since opening the season with three straight victories.
Russell’s appearance had been considered a game-time decision after he had banged knees with a Lehigh player with 8:56 left in the second half of Tuesday night’s 76-55 win and did not return. Wearing a white sleeve over his right knee, Russell proved critical as he scored the team’s last seven points of the first half and nine points during a 20-8 run to open the second half.
Interim coach Danny Manning said Russell did not do anything Wednesday and had to prove that he could move without limitations before Thursday’s game.
“He felt comfortable enough to play, and we’re very happy he did,” Manning said. “He did a tremendous job of running the team, but also picking his moments to be aggressive.”
Bears coach Michael Martin, who had faced Russell when he played at Rhode Island for four years, said he was the catalyst for the Terps.
“I thought he was the spark,” Martin said. “He got them going. At the end of the first half, he got himself going with some drives in transition. In the second half as they were going on their run, he hits the three against our zone, he hits the pull-up off the backboard. He’s a dynamic player.”
Not only did the Terps benefit from Russell’s play in the second half, but they made a defensive switch. After Bears graduate student small forward Tamenang Choh torched the defense for 18 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the first 20 minutes, Hart was assigned to shadow Choh in the second half. Choh managed just seven points on 3-for-6 shooting.
Trailing 39-35 at halftime, the Terps watched Brown (8-7) score six of the second half’s first 10 points before getting a layup from Hart at the 16:28 mark that ended a stretch of four consecutive missed shots. They then got a much-needed 3-pointer from Scott 35 seconds later that was Maryland’s first long-range jumper in 10 attempts.
The Terps then reeled off eight unanswered points for a 13-0 run. They took advantage of a Bears offense that missed seven straight shots and was mired in a drought of 4:48.
Lethargic starts continue to hound Maryland, which led just once in the final 9:21 of the first half. The team was not aided by foul trouble on a pair of starters in 6-foot-11, 240-pound junior forward Qudus Wahab (second foul with 17:12 left in the period) and 6-8, 230-pound Scott (second foul with 12:25 remaining) that forced Manning to go to his bench early.
After Scott sank a pair of free throws to give the Terps a 25-24 lead with 5:05 left in the first half, that would be their last lead of the frame. Brown then embarked on an 11-3 run over a 2:41 span highlighted by eight consecutive points from Choh, who finished with a game-high 25 points.
Russell scored Maryland’s final seven points of the half, but the team still found itself trailing 39-35 at the break. It marked the eighth time in 11 games that the Terps were mired in a halftime deficit, and they had been 3-4 in the previous seven games when trailing at halftime, including dropping their last three.
In addition to Choh, the Bears got 17 points and three assists from freshman guard Kino Lilly Jr. and 10 points, four rebounds and three blocks from senior power forward Jaylan Gainey. But they couldn’t maintain the momentum they had built in the first half.
“Obviously, we had some defensive breakdowns in the second half,” Martin said. “But Fatts Russell, Eric Ayala, Scott, they are three experienced, veteran, talented players. They made some plays. I think you have to credit them.”
Monday, 9 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 105.7 FM