Three months into his college career, Donta Scott has become as integral of a player in Maryland’s rotation as the veterans who surround him. Heading into Tuesday night’s game at Northwestern, Scott has started every contest since mid-December, but his performance against Purdue rose above the others: He finished with 13 points, six rebounds, a block and no turnovers, with many of his contributions coming early.
“He kind of became the X-factor there in the first half,” Purdue Coach Matt Painter said.
That first half was when Maryland (14-4, 4-3 Big Ten) built such a significant cushion that the Boilermakers couldn’t claw all the way back when the Terps’ shooting cooled. The opening minutes offered some needed reassurance after the typically slow-starting Terps had lost their previous two games, both on the road.
Through 12 minutes, Scott had hit four of his five shot attempts, including two three-pointers and a three-point play he converted on the Terps’ second possession. He reached double figures for the first time in his career when Maryland still had nearly 30 minutes to play.
“We all know defensively he’s going to give all he has,” sophomore guard Aaron Wiggins said. “We know offensively he’s going to give all he has when it comes to rebounding, making the right plays. But when he’s hitting those open shots, it makes him more of a threat, and it opens the court a little bit more for everybody else.”
Both Scott and fellow forward Jalen Smith have showcased their three-point shooting ability this season. Smith has made 8 of 13 this month. The two combined for four makes in the first half against Purdue, which gives the Terps’ lineup options — and five players who have that ability.
“When we're both hitting threes,” Scott said, “that's a great day.”
Scott recently said he is “trying to figure out where I’m going to be most efficient” offensively. Sometimes that derives from his defense, when a block or steal could get the team going in transition, where Scott feels comfortable. Scott said he has never had a problem in those fast-paced situations because his high school team ran a lot and he has always been “the guy who was hyperactive, ready to go at all times.” Scott’s first three-pointer against Purdue came in transition off an assist from Anthony Cowan Jr., and his second capped a four-minute spurt during which Scott scored all eight of Maryland’s points.
The 6-foot-7 freshman has attempted more threes than twos this month, even as his three-point shooting percentage has dipped a bit. A couple of times during Maryland’s disappointing loss last week at Wisconsin, Scott missed three-pointers early in the shot clock that quickly killed possessions. In that game, Scott finished 0 for 4, with all of his attempts coming from behind the arc. But then a few days later against the Boilermakers, Scott made multiple three-pointers for the first time in his career.
After Scott’s career-best outing, Coach Mark Turgeon pointed back to that Wisconsin performance, emphasizing how much his team needs Scott to hit shots. If Scott had done so against the Badgers, the Terps could have a 5-2 conference record instead of the 4-3 mark that positions Maryland closer to the middle of the congested Big Ten standings.
But as Scott’s offensive production has bounced between two and 13 points on his way to a 5.6-point average, the player who just turned 19 continues to show a mature commitment to defense.
“He guards every night,” Turgeon said. “He’s a terrific defender. He’s got toughness down there. [Purdue’s] Nojel Eastern was scoring on everybody, and all of a sudden Donta was on him [and] he couldn’t. You know what I’m saying? He has that in him.”
Scott doesn’t have the height to match some of his Big Ten counterparts at power forward, but his physicality helps. So does his mind-set. Turgeon said Scott can guard a center if needed. When asked about defending someone with a size advantage, Scott said, “I basically just look at it as they bleed the way I bleed.”
That’s the confidence and toughness that oozes out of the freshman. With high-level high school and AAU basketball, players now arrive at college more prepared than before. Scott said he “always felt like I could step on the court with anybody.” And as Maryland continues through its Big Ten slate, one that’s packed with meaningful matchups, Scott will keep having opportunities to prove his un-freshman-like ability.