The Terps needed to indoctrinate five freshmen into what it was like to play in the Big Ten, especially on the road. The Boilermakers were figuring how to surround star junior guard Carsen Edwards with four new starters.
Purdue won, 62-60.
No. 24 Maryland and No. 12 Purdue meet again Tuesday night at Xfinity Center, and the Terps come into the matchup having done better than many predicted and the Boilermakers have become the Big Ten’s hottest team.
“We walked out of that building, we were both 1-1 in the league, I think if you had told Matt [Painter, Purdue’s coach] he was going to be 10-2, I think he would have taken it,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Monday.
“To be quite honest, with the schedule we played and the young team we had, I thought 9-4 would be pretty good for us. … There’s a lot of really good teams in our league, obviously, and Purdue’s playing as well as anybody.”
After starting the season 6-5, Purdue has won 11 of its past 12, including an eight-game winning streak during which the Boilermakers avenged their only loss — an 18-point defeat at then-No. 6 Michigan State — with a 10-point win over the Spartans, now ranked 11th, at home 19 days later.
After a disappointing loss at home to Seton Hall in late December left the Terps at 9-3, a seven-game winning streak that included six straight Big Ten wins put Maryland into the Top 25 for the first time in two seasons. Reality then hit, with three defeats in four games before Wednesday night’s 60-45 win at Nebraska.
“They’ve improved as much as anybody,” Turgeon said of the Boilermakers, who are second in the Big Ten behind Michigan. “Something we talked about is our team trying to be one of the most improved teams in the league as the season went on. I think we’re getting there, too.
“Matt’s done a nice job. They’ve had some guys step up. Young guys are just getting better. They’ve got good young talent. With Carsen Edwards, anything’s possible. He’s single-handedly won a couple of road games for them. I think we’re both better. I think it should be a fun night of college basketball.”
Given how much both teams struggled offensively in the first game, Tuesday’s game should be played a higher level of execution. That it might come down to a last shot, as it did in December, seems possible given how many close games both teams have played since.
“We’ve both grown a lot,” Maryland freshman point guard Eric Ayala said Monday. “That was earlier in the season. For us, just maturing, of course a ton of freshmen we have. Just growing up, just knowing what plays to make and what plays not to make.“
Tuesday’s game is the first in a three-game gantlet for Maryland, which is tied for fourth with No. 20 Wisconsin, against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, with two on the road.
After their game against Purdue, Maryland plays at No. 6 Michigan on Saturday and at No. 21 Iowa on Feb. 19.
Asked how much easier it is to not think about how meaningful these games might be in terms of seeding in the Big Ten tournament next month or even in the NCAA tournament, Turgeon said: “We don’t talk about anything but us getting better and now we’re going to talk about Purdue because we’re going to play them tomorrow.
“It’s been a good approach for us. The big picture for us is being the most improved team as the season goes on and continue to get better in all phases. If you continue to do those things, the rest kind of takes care of itself. It’s too early. There’s seven games left to talking about this and that down the road.”
Much of the conversation going into Tuesday’s game will center on the matchup between Edwards, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, and Maryland junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. Back in West Lafayette, Ind. in early December, both teams did a good job guarding the respective leading scorers with bigger players.
Edwards, guarded mostly by 6-foot-5 sophomore Darryl Morsell [Mount Saint Joseph], missed his first eight shots before finishing the night 4-for-15 from the field, including 3-for-9 on 3-pointers. But Edwards countered his cold shooting by getting to the foul line and hitting all nine free throws.
Cowan, guarded mostly by 6-6 sophomore Nojel Eastern, wound up 4-for-17 from the field, including 2-for-10 on 3-pointers. He also made up for his off-night by hitting eight of 10 from the line, but his last-second corner 3-pointer wasblocked by Eastern.
Edwards has shot as poorly only twice since, both times against Michigan State, and comes in on a roll, including scoring 36 points in an overtime win over now-No. 20 Wisconsin and 38 — two shy of the career-high 40 he put in a loss at Texas this season — in an overtime win at Penn State.
Cowan comes in after a five-game stretch during which he’s averaged just 11 points — more than five below his season’s average. He scored a season-low five points in the win at Nebraska. In those games, he has shot 15-for-51 from the field, including 6-for-25 on 3-pointers.
“It’s Purdue versus Maryland, but Anthony knows he hasn’t shot the ball well recently,” Turgeon said. “But he works — Anthony’s in the gym. The good thing is our last two victories, Anthony hasn’t really been a big part of it, Northwestern or Nebraska, so that gives us confidence as a program, that Anthony doesn’t have to be terrific for us to win. He’s just got to get back to being Anthony.”