Donta Scott figured out a long time ago how to impact a basketball game without scoring a bunch of points.
From the time he started playing at a more competitive level before reaching high school in Philadelphia, Scott did the little things that helped his teams win without him being in the spotlight. As a junior at Imhotep Institute Charter School, Scott was named the state’s 2A player of the year while averaging only 11 points a game. The team won three state titles while Scott was there.
The spotlight is still on others midway through Scott’s freshman year at Maryland, and the 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward is still doing the little things to help the Terps stay competitive in the Big Ten. Scott, who is expected to make his seventh straight start when No. 17 Maryland (14-4, 4-3 Big Ten) tries for its first road victory Tuesday night at Northwestern (6-11, 1-6), is averaging 5.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in a little under 20 minutes a game.
Scott’s performance in Saturday’s 57-50 win over Purdue at Xfinity Center is a perfect example of his versatility and his value.
With a three-point play on Maryland’s second possession, Scott got the Terps started on what turned out to be the team’s best first half since a 21-point win over Marquette in the championship game of the Orlando Invitational on Dec. 1. With two straight 3-pointers, Scott finished the first half with nine of his career-high 13 points. Maryland led the Boilermakers by as many as 18 and by 16 at halftime.
“He kind of became the X-factor there in the first half,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “When you look at their lineup, with their top six players with [Aaron] Wiggins coming off the bench, he’s the guy who’s a freshman who hasn’t been through it yet. He really helped him.”
Asked about how his ability to hit from the perimeter helps the Terps, Scott said: “It changes the game a lot because if I’m hitting 3’s, they’re going to try to close out more [to defend] and it’s going to make it a little bit easier for me to drive to the basket and kick [passes out for 3’s to others].”
Though he also got a huge basket in the second half after following a miss by sophomore forward Jalen Smith, Scott’s biggest contribution down the stretch was preventing Purdue’s 6-6, 220-pound junior guard Nojel Eastern from taking over. After a layup by Eastern cut Maryland’s 36-20 halftime lead to 44-37 with 11:40 left, coach Mark Turgeon switched Scott on to Eastern.
Though the Boilermakers closed to within three points at 53-50, Eastern didn’t score the rest of the game, missing two shots and committing a turnover.
“One, he guards every night, he’s a terrific defender, he’s got toughness down there,” Turgeon said of Scott. “Nojel Eastern was scoring on everybody and all of a sudden Donta was on him and he couldn’t [score]. Know what I’m saying? He has that in him.”
In Tuesday’s 56-52 loss at Wisconsin, fourth-year junior forward Micah Potter continued his recent stretch of double-digit scoring against the Terps before Turgeon decided to alternate between Smith and Scott.
“He scored on everybody but him and Stix [Smith],” Turgeon said of Potter, who also sat out the last 10½ minutes after Wisconsin coach Greg Gard thought Potter had become something of a defensive liability.
The difference for Maryland on Saturday might have been Scott. Against the Badgers, Scott had seven rebounds in 27 minutes but scored just two points on a pair of free throws. He was 0-for-4 from the field, all of them 3-point attempts, some of which were ill-advised shots taken quickly in transition. Those shots fell against the Boilermakers, and Scott also added six rebounds and a blocked shot.
“We need him to make shots,” Turgeon said Saturday. “He was 0-for-4 against Wisconsin. If he makes a couple of ‘em, all of sudden we’re 5-2 [in the Big Ten] instead of 4-3. Those shots were big. He works at it. He’s grown up in his work habits in between [games], before practice and after practice.”
Turgeon said it’s not just about Scott working on the physical aspects of his game.
“He was dialed into the scouting report today. At a young age, he did a terrific job with that,” Turgeon said. “He’s really important to us. He helps us space the floor. You have to be accountable, just another guy [to defend]. That gives you five guys on the floor that can score [from the outside].”
Before Saturday’s game, Scott seemed locked into the music being piped over the public-address system at Xfinity Center, as well as what he hoped to do against Purdue. Even as he shimmied his shoulders between shots, the moment he needed to square up and focus on the rim, he did, and kept nailing one shot after another.
It seemed to carry over into the game. Even though he shot just 3-for-15 from 3-point range in the team’s previous six games, you couldn’t tell when he rose twice from the wing and hit a pair of long 3′s. It doesn’t seem to matter than he is still just shooting 30.1% from beyond the arc after making two of four against Purdue.
“You’ve always got to stay confident in what you’re doing,” he said. “If I’m shooting, driving, I just got to keep going at it and keep staying confident. Maybe not the last one I shot that is going in, but I got to look forward for the next one to go in.”
Said sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins: “He’s much more effective when he’s making shots, because he becomes a duel threat, offense and defense. We all know defensively he’s going to give all he has, offensively he’s going to give all he has when it comes to rebounding and making the right plays.
"But when he’s hitting those open shots, it makes him more of a threat and it opens the court up for everybody else. When somebody drives, they can’t help off Donta. It’ll open up the lane for somebody to go to the basket or something. I kept telling him, ‘Keep shooting, don’t stop.’”