COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The scene in the Maryland locker room after the Terps’ latest road victory against Minnesota was akin to a hard-fought NCAA tournament win to keep the season alive. Maryland, which is now 4-0 away from Xfinity Center in conference play, overcame a double-digit deficit and a lackluster first half to down the Gophers, 85-78, in a packed Williams Arena.
If that weren’t enough reason to get fired up, freshman Justin Jackson dropped in a career–high 28 points on a scintillating 5-of-5 show from 3, while classmate Kevin Huerter added five triples of his own en route to 19 points.
“I think on the road, it is more emotional just because everyone in the building is against you besides the select-few people behind your bench,” Huerter said. “As a team, we’re more into it. Not that we aren’t at home, but it’s just more emotional.
“And that scene in the locker room after the game… we were really happy for Justin. Before the game, Coach [Mark] Turgeon said he could get 30 [points], so we were going crazy and embracing him after the game. We knew it was a good win.”
Yes, another good win in a season chock full of them 21 games in. The Terps (19-2, 7-1 Big Ten) once again found a way to come out on top, and this time they relied on the deep ball, coupled with some nifty passing courtesy of point guard Melo Trimble, to spur them past their foe.
“When you get hot, shots start to fall. Justin and I, we hit our first 3, and after that the confidence gets rolling,” Huerter said. “Once one goes down, the rest start coming…. Earlier in the season, the shots weren’t falling, so we started to [penetrate] to open things up. I think once we did that, guys have gotten more open [3-point] shots. I think that’s why you’re seeing the ball go in [more often].”
One of those prime penetrators has been Trimble, who has seemingly uncovered new ways to expand his arsenal as the season has gone along. He did score 13 points and grab seven rebounds in the Gophers’ bout, but Trimble did his best work running the offense and finding Jackson, Huerter and Co. The junior dished out nine assists against zero turnovers, his ability to break down the defense directly leading to open looks for his teammates.
“I think his game has grown [each year]. I’ve said all along this year, he trusts his teammates,” Turgeon said. “He did that the whole second half [against Minnesota]. He realizes everyone is trying to stop him. He was terrific, made all the right decisions.”
Said Trimble: “I’m just glad I didn’t have a turnover… But it shows I’ve matured and have trust in my teammates…Kevin, Justin, they’re knocking down shots. It’s my job as a point guard to continue to find them.”
That’s all well and good, but these Terrapins realize they certainly haven’t made it easy on themselves this year. Maryland has been plagued by rebounding woes, free-throw shooting inconsistencies and spates of offensive droughts. Against the Gophers, the Terps lost the board battle 41-31, shot 63.6 percent from the line and suffered through a 10-minute scoring outage where Minnesota went on a 19-1 run.
“We just want to get better. All the mistakes with turnovers, missed box-outs, they can be corrected,” Trimble said. “Being at 19-2, that’s really special, but we still know we want to get better.
“We do get comfortable sometimes, and it’s something we continue to tackle. Minnesota went on a 19-1 run, that’s crazy. We have to focus in; we have to clean that up. We’re going to start playing teams twice, and teams are scouting us, seeing how we play. So we have to continue to play better.”
Huerter added in his two cents on the team’s charity-stripe woes this season.
“It’s something Coach Turgeon talks about all the time in practice. I think free-throw shooting … is a big mental thing,” Huerter said. “We just have to have confidence. Seeing the ball go in 100 times in practice gives you more confidence. But when you miss during a game you lose confidence. It’s something we have to keep working on.”
Even so, Turgeon said his team’s penchant for playing together, belief in one another and buying into the coaching has helped them overcome whatever deficiencies they’ve been prone to. Moreover, the coach mentioned the Terps haven’t “bought in” to their national ranking or become complacent, which makes them easy to coach and motivate.
Particularly after a big win on the road.
“We didn’t catch a lot of breaks in our last two road games, and that makes us pretty determined. We don’t look down; we look forward,” Turgeon said. “We’ve taken [winning on the road] on as a challenge… We never stop believing we’re going to win.”
Next up, the Terps stay on the road for the third time in four games. They’ll travel to Columbus, Ohio, for the first of a home-and-home series with the Buckeyes, who have lost two of three and are coming off an 85-72 loss at Iowa. Ohio State is 13-9 this year but just 3-6 in Big Ten play.
One of the main area of concern for the Buckeyes this year have been turnovers – both forcing them and giving the ball up. OSU ranks in the bottom third of the Big Ten in turnover margin. Also, the Buckeyes aren’t a particularly potent 3-point shooting squad at 33.7 percent, which is 12th in the league, nor are they very effective from the line (66.7 percent; 11th in the Big Ten).
With the above in mind, it’s no surprise Ohio State has had issues scoring at times; the Buckeyes are 10th in the Big Ten in at 73.4 points per game.
OSU sits in the middle of the pack in most other major statistical categories, however, not dominating or truly struggling in most areas. Offensively, the Buckeyes are sixth in field-goal percentage (46 percent), eighth in scoring margin (plus-5.1 points per game) and eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.1). Defensively, they’re eighth in scoring defense (68.3 points per game), sixth in field-goal percentage defense (40.5 percent), seventh in 3-point defense (34 percent), eighth in rebounding margin (plus-2.4), eighth in defensive rebounding percentage (71 percent) and ninth in blocks.
At point guard, sophomore JaQuan Lyle has assumed the starting role and has played fairly well in his first year at the helm. The 6-foot-5 Lyle averages over five assists against just 2.6 turnovers per, while he’s second on the squad at 12.3 points a night. Lyle shoots 45.6 percent from the field and a respectable 39 percent from 3. He also grabs about three boards a game and typically nabs a steal or two.
Joining Lyle in the backcourt is junior Kam Williams, a Baltimore native out of Mount St. Joe. Williams has been somewhat up-and-down this year, shooting 40 percent from the field and 38 percent from range en route to just over 10 points per game. Williams averages two rebounds per and hands out just under one assist a game. He is an excellent free-throw shooter, however, at 93 percent.
At wing, senior forward Marc Loving is third on the team at 11.4 points per game. He shoots 42 percent from the field, but has been inconsistent from deep (35 percent). Loving is good for five rebounds and a couple assists each night too.
At forward, junior Jae’Sean Tate leads the way at 14 points per game. Tate doesn’t have much touch from 3 (19 percent) or the line (55 percent), but he’s 55 percent from the field. Tate nabs 6.3 rebounds per and picks up a steal per game as well. He has been turnover prone at times, though.
Finally, at center is 7-footer Trevor Thompson, who averages 10.5 points and nine rebounds per. Thompson also converts at a 58 percent rate from the field and leads the squad with 39 blocks.
“He’s just so physical and he’s hitting the 15-17 footer,” said Turgeon, who noted that big man Michal Cekovsky will continue to see his role increase now that he's recovered from injury, while guard Dion Wiley remains out with a back ailment. “You talk about guys improving, he really has the last two years. He’s confident, they’re playing through him and he’s a terrific player.”
Ohio State lost some depth with Keita Bates-Diop out, so the main rotational pieces have been center Micah Potter and guard C.J. Jackson. Meanwhile, freshman forward Andre Wesson has seen increased time of late.
Potter, in particular, has been a valuable contributor, showing he can convert around the rim; from the outside; and grab his share of rebounds. Jackson, for his part, has spelled Lyle at point and is actually second on the squad in assists. He’s known more for his handles than his shooting touch, though (3.8 points per on 33 percent from the field).
“I think their starting five is one of the most talented in our league, if not the most talented,” Turgeon said. “We have our hands full.”