COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Freshman wing Kevin Huerter is quickly becoming a fan favorite at Maryland, and not necessarily for the 3-point stroke he built his reputation on at Shenendehowa Central (Clifton Park, N.Y.). In just 20 collegiate games, Huerter has cultivated an all-around game, while demonstrating superior basketball IQ and court vision rare for a first-year player.
Maryland’s Jan. 24 home game against Rutgers, a 67-55 UMD victory, is the latest example.
Witness: With 55 seconds left in the first half and the Terps up by one, Huerter took a pass; looked off the defense; and fired a cross-court skip pass to a wide-open Melo Trimble, who canned a 3.
About 40 seconds later, Huerter turned the same trick. This time, with the defense closing in, he weaved a pass through traffic to forward L.G. Gill, who proceeded to knock down a triple of his own.
“He’s good,” UMD head coach Mark Turgeon said after the game. “[Huerter] sees over people, and he has great vision. He was sharp [Jan. 24]. We’re going to keep trying to get the ball in his hands more so he can make plays for other people.”
In typical Huerter fashion, he filled the box score with more than just assists. Sure, he was only 2-of-7 from range in an 11-point effort, but the New York native had eight rebounds; a steal; and a block, to go along with six dimes. To boot, Huerter turned the ball over just once in 34 minutes.
Afterwards, Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell heaped praise on the Maryland first-year.
“In all the films, he’s the X-factor [for Maryland],” Pikiell said. “He’s a great passer, has great size, he can hit 3s -- he hits some big ones [Jan. 24] -- and he’s versatile… And what’s most impressive is [he] plays every night and is consistent.”
Huerter, who does his best to deflect credit, said he’s a product of the Terps’ offense and how foes choose to defend him. He said if opponents key on the likes of Trimble or Anthony Cowan, it gives him more opportunities to create.
Huerter also mentioned how Maryland’s constantly improving team chemistry has given him a better understanding of how teammates will react in certain situations. Thus, he’s able to sense Trimble coming open cross-court.
“In our offense, playmakers can thrive,” Huerter said. “That’s what they said when they were recruiting me. We play up-tempo, fast-paced, and we want guys that can pass; shoot; and dribble. We have guys that can do that… and different guys have shown this year they can thrive.”
It was Huerter’s turn to thrive Jan. 24, and those two aforementioned passes helped Maryland build its lead to five by halftime. Then, at the start of the second half, Huerter hit Justin Jackson on a backdoor cut for a bucket right out of the gate. Huerter proceeded to knock down a mid-range jumper 30 seconds after that, giving the Terps a nine-point advantage.
Rutgers ended up clawing back to within three, but the Terps quickly assumed control and kept the Scarlet Knights at bay for the final 15 minutes.
“[The stretch] definitely was big. We always talk about how we want to win the first four minutes of the game, last four minutes of the half, the first four minutes of the second half and obviously the last four minutes to end the game. Those are the kind of stretches, if we want to win the game, we have to win those,” Huerter said.
Said the junior guard Trimble: “[Huerter] really helped us get a big lead. He started the [second] half with an assist to Justin [Jackson], hit two big shots, and just his playmaking ability – it all helped. He knows how to win, and hopefully he can continue to [make plays].”
All of the above doesn’t even account for Huerter’s defense, which has been a constant all year. This time around, Huerter locked down Rutgers’ most potent offensive threat, Corey Sanders. At the beginning of the game, the Terps had Trimble and Anthony Cowan on Sanders, and the Scarlet Knights’ guard ended up scoring 13 points.
But with about four minutes remaining in the half, Turgeon switched Huerter onto Sanders. The RU slasher ended up scoring just once more the rest of the night, Huerter’s length and anticipation proving disruptive to Sanders’ rhythm.
“Our coaches always tell us to take pride in our defense,” Huerter said. “Coach [Dustin] Clark especially, when I get those matchups, he says take pride in stopping the other team’s best scorer. I think it’s a mindset, to take on the challenge; stop [the opposing player]; and not let them control the game.”
Pikiell noted Huerter’s effort, calling him a “good defender,” while Turgeon offered up his compliments too.
“[Sanders] is so fast and we never really adjusted … until the very end [of the first half]… Our ball-screen defense and team defense was much better in the second half,” Turgeon said. “[Huerter] did a nice job on him, held him to 33 percent shooting, which is always good.”
With the help of Huerter and numerous others, the Terps are off to their best start in 18 years. They’re 18-2 and riding high heading into the midpoint of the Big Ten schedule.
“I’m not [surprised],” Huerter said of Maryland’s record. “I thought when we were playing pickup at the start of the year we were really good. People asked me about it, and I said if we play to our potential we can be really good. And all the freshmen and the people that have been here, they all come from winning [backgrounds]. No one has ever been on a losing team. We have a lot of winners on this team.”