Many things could have conspired against Maryland heading into the March 13 Big Ten Tournament opening- round game against Indiana at Chicago’s United Center in the Terps' first-ever Big Ten tourney.
While the Terps (and Lady Terps) blew doors off in Year One, what with a No. 2 seed heading into the March 13 game after posting a 14-4 league mark (and 26-5 overall), Indiana, which Maryland split with this season, perhaps had more to play for.
Getting a bit more off the bubble March 12 with their rout of a game Northwestern team under coach Chris Collins, the Hoosiers were still playing for their March lives.
Losers of three straight heading into the postseason, including last week’s devastating two-point choke job against Michigan State, the Hoosiers had been the league’s highest scoring team, but also the worst defensive squad in terms of points allowed and field goal percentage. But March 12 against the Wildcats, they played with boundless energy in running through, past, and over Northwestern and its zone.
Meanwhile, the Hossiers had a large crowd March 13, while they were still smarting over the narrow loss to Maryland last month at Xfinity Center, when Yogi Farrell’s two final-second shots rimmed out.
Next, there’s no Big Ten team as a worse matchup for the Terps than Indiana, as their quick backcourt, overall length and athleticism (not to mention three-point marksmen) is the kind of squad that has given UMD fits all season. See Farrell’s 13-of-17 made 3s against the Terps in two games this season heading into the March 13 affair.
(not to mention three-point marksmen)
Maryland, with at worst a No. 3 seed all but wrapped up, and a remarkable bounce-back season after four years of gloom and doom around College Park, Md., and head coach Mark Turgeon, had Big Ten Coach of the Year and a handful of all-Big Ten first and second team accolades in hand, and probably more of their mind next weekend in the NCAA tournament (where they haven’t been in five years) then a Big Ten Tournament when their tickets have already been basically punched.
Throw in the fact Indiana was down starting center Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who twisted his knee March 12, and the Hoosiers had much to play for and a lot of emotion heading in. And the benefit of having one extra night to prepare for the rims and depth perception at the pro arena.
Against that backdrop, well, the Terps could have gone one of two ways against the up-and-down Hoosiers, a team that gets into its break and offensive sets quicker than anyone and excels in ball movement and finding the open shooters in space, playing into seemingly the biggest Terps weaknesses this year. Not to mention Maryland was limping in a tad bit, what with Evan Smotrycz, Jake Layman, Michal Cekovsky, among others, nicked a after the long grind of the season.
And the way the Terps went was a similar path they have followed all year -- and why this has become such a special season for UMD.
The March 13 75-69 victory over the Hoosiers, despite some tense moments yet again in the final seconds, lifted Maryland to its first Big Ten Tournament win ever, and extended its mark to 11-0 in games decided by six points or less this season.
"That was a really good win for us. I think Indiana is a really good basketball team. They're really hard to guard. They're really hard to box out because of their speed. I thought our guys were good from the very start tonight," head coach Mark Turgeon said. "We do what we do. We're pretty good offensively, and then we'll take some possessions off defense, but we were good, and I thought down the stretch, our defense carried us. We couldn't score there for a while, and we defended and rebounded better and played shots and played with great poise down the stretch. Just another really good win for us."
And it was part the usual suspects yet again – Dez Wells (22 points) and Melo Trimble (17 points) – leading the way, especially Wells’ man-sized rebounds down the stretch. But on this night the Terps' defense, especially in the second half, balled out like it hadn’t since early-season against a team Turgeon said even after the win tonight, “we don’t match up with them well at all.”
Maryland’s tenacious defense kept Indiana out of the lane and at bay, forcing the Hoosiers out on the perimeter and into bad shots, and many shots deep into the shot clock, while the Terps got after the glass and kept them to few second-chance opportunities.
Maryland’s transition defense in the second half was particularly exceptional, taking IU out of what it does best in what began as an up and down game but settled nicely into Maryland’s pace in the second, when it took control of the contest.
Many have said the Terps will go as far as the senior Wells and the upstart freshman Trimble will take them this year, and it was their dribble penetration and iso plays that stymied seemingly every IU run with the game back and forth until the final 40 seconds, the Terps with an answer despite having great difficulty stopping dribble penetration in the first half. In that first half, it was Trimble daggers, be it three-balls or mid-range pull-ups, that helped the Terps maintain leads despite the fact they were giving up way too many easy rim runs to IU.
IU struggled with some turnovers, foul trouble to jumping-jack forward Troy Williams (17 points) early, and some poor shot selection. But it was Maryland getting a body on the Hoosiers, hands up in the passing lanes, denying and contesting entries, and grinding it on the boards on a night they got little from their three "big men by committee" but so much from their leaders who continue to put them on their back.
The Terps also dominated in the paint (30-18 scoring advantage) with Mosquera-Perea out, while doing what they do best at the free throw line, knocking down 25 of 33, to notch yet another impressive late decision in the clutch.
There were also key contributions from oft-maligned senior Evan Smotrycz, who not only hit some timely jumpers but had some subtle hustle plays and late free throws, as well as two key three-point bombs from freshman Jared Nickens, who recovered from a few rookie mistakes late.
"Evan is the leader. He's battled, he's been through this. He's been in the Big Ten. He knows what it's all about. He's been in this tournament before, so he understands the magnitude and the window of opportunity that we have to do something really special in this tournament," Wells said. "He understands it and he gets it, so whatever advice he can give any of us on the team, he does that, and he's one of those guys that you know you can always lean on, so Evan, he was a big part of our win today. His impact on the game was second to none. We appreciate that. We're going to need more of that from him."
But it was the senior Wells, and his big clear-out and blow-by finish with 2:40 left for a four-point cushion, and then his two monster boards with 1:45 and 21 seconds left after missed IU jumpers, that salted yet another clutch win away for a Terps team that continues to display remarkable resolve this season. And the game management and control of the freshman Trimble, who continues to not get rattled and lead the club up top.
Maryland keeps finding ways to win despite being under-manned in ways, finding answers each time out as they continue their record turnaround season under Mark Turgeon.
"We're used to having to grind it out so that's kind of like the stigma with the Big Ten," Wells said. "It's kind of grind it out kind of games with the teams especially like the teams like Purdue and stuff like that. We're used to grinding it out and having to fight for every possession.This team is battle tested.We've been through a lot of adversity this year, whether it be, like, nagging injuries or people not being able to play because of injuries. We've always had to adjust, so we're accustomed to that. Regardless of what type of adjustments we have to make during the game, we're going to make them, and we feel confident, and we know how to maintain our composure throughout the game."
Terps Keep Getting It Done
TerrapinTimes Top Stories
Watch: Quick Feet For No. 22 OT/Terps CommitOwings Mills (Md.) Mc Donogh offensive tackle Jordan McNair, who is committed to Maryland, in action during his senior season.
Scout Football12:40 PM
Watch: DeAndre Lane emerging as senior leaderThe Maryland native already has one more catch than he did all of last season.
Watch: East's No. 6 QB Mack a dual-threatNorview (Va.) Norfolk quarterback D.J. Mack shows why he is one of the top signal-callers in the East Region in his early senior highlights.
Scout Football10:10 AM
Watch: TE Park will be big target for TerpsAndrew Park, the nation's 36th-ranked tight end, shows why he is one of the region's best in his early senior highlights.
Scout Football8:06 AM