MINNEAPOLIS — Five times, the Maryland men’s basketball team had tried to beat a fellow Big Ten team on the road, but it needed much more favorable circumstances — a game against shorthanded, last-place Minnesota — to break through. The Terrapins ended their skid in emphatic fashion Saturday night, cruising to an 81-46 victory at Williams Arena with a promising performance.
Maryland has won four in a row, and the Terps (16-7, 7-5) dominated this matchup from start to finish. The Terps equaled their biggest win in conference play since joining the Big Ten in 2014; they beat Ohio State, 100-65, in January 2016. Even with a 20-point halftime lead, Maryland kept pushing and started the second half on a 16-3 run.
Given the past trouble away from Xfinity Center, point guard Jahmir Young said the Terps viewed this matchup as a “must-win” game and entered with the “mind-set that we have to get this one.” Maryland showed progress when it lost a tight game at Purdue, ranked No. 3 at the time, and the three straight wins at home added confidence. Beginning with the loss against the Boilermakers, the Terps’ defense has allowed just 55.4 points per game.
“I put everything back to that Purdue game,” Coach Kevin Willard said. “I thought our defensive intensity started there. ... I just think these guys have understood who we have to be to win games.”
The Terps outclassed the struggling Golden Gophers (7-15, 1-11) in nearly every area. Maryland shot 52.4 percent compared with 34.2 percent for Minnesota. The Terps hit 9 of 21 attempts from three-point range, while the Gophers finished 2 for 14. Ian Martinez, a junior guard who comes off the bench, led the Terps by hitting 3 of 6 attempts from three, and five players contributed at least one.
“We did a great job moving the ball,” Martinez said. “They play a lot of zone, so we [put] a lot of emphasis on not keeping the ball stationary, just keep it moving, move the defense a little bit and we’ll get some good looks.”
Maryland’s offense looked fluid — it had 17 assists against five turnovers — and the Terps, with nine steals, forced Minnesota into 16 giveaways. Willard credits senior guard Hakim Hart, who had four assists and no turnovers to go with seven points, and Young’s growing comfort level. As Young, a transfer from Charlotte, has progressed, “our offense has gone the same way,” Willard said.
In the Gophers’ previous two games, they surrendered 81 points at Northwestern and 90 at Rutgers; Maryland capitalized on those defensive woes in similar fashion. Four Terps scored in double figures: Julian Reese (16 points), Young (14), Donta Scott (13) and Martinez (11). Willard used the final stretch to give minutes to several rarely used players and to keep his starters from a taking on a heavy load just three days before their next road test at Michigan State.
Here’s what else to know about Maryland’s win:
Much of the Terps’ trouble on the road in conference games had stemmed from poor starts. In its first five Big Ten road trips, Maryland shot 25 percent from the floor in the opening 10 minutes.
Against the Gophers, the Terps hit 9 of 13 field goals during that stretch to start the game at a blistering clip. On the defensive end, Maryland forced a shot-clock violation on Minnesota’s first possession and maintained the intensity that had lifted the Terps to its recent wins at home.
“We’ve got to come in locked in to stop the other team,” Martinez said. “That’s the main thing for us that gets us going. We can’t be thinking just offense first.”
Maryland’s offensive efficiency barely wavered, and Minnesota’s defense looked out of sorts. The Terps had a double-digit lead less than eight minutes in, and their advantage extended to 22 points with 5:46 left in the half. That tied Maryland’s largest lead in Big Ten play this season — and Maryland set a new season best as its advantage ballooned to 42 points in the final minutes.
Minnesota had its most promising burst, an 8-0 run, near the end of the first half, but that only cut its deficit to 14 points. By halftime, the Terps had a 41-21 edge.
“To maintain [the lead], it shows the maturity of this group,” Young said. “In the past, we could take a couple possessions off or have a couple mental lapses, but I feel like today, we were able to keep the focus.”
Sophomore forward Dawson Garcia, the Gophers’ leading scorer and rebounder, missed his fourth straight game with a bone bruise in his right foot. Minnesota entered the game averaging just 61.8 points, ranking 341st among 352 Division I teams, and its trouble worsened without Garcia, who contributes 14.9 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Pharrel Payne, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward, managed to slice through Maryland’s defense at times and finished with 14 points. No other Minnesota player had more than eight.
Climbing the standings
With the win, the Terps climbed into a tie for third place in the Big Ten. Indiana, Illinois and Iowa join Maryland with a 7-5 record, behind only Purdue (11-2) and Rutgers (8-4). By following the conference’s tiebreaking procedures, Maryland currently lands in fourth.
The standings are clogged in the middle: Nine teams have between five and seven wins. If the Terps can rise toward the top of that pack, they would earn a favorable seed in the conference tournament.
Maryland’s schedule for the final month of the regular season isn’t too difficult. The Terps have a home game against Minnesota and a matchup at Nebraska (10-13, 3-9) remaining among its final eight games. In his first season, Willard will have a chance to lead the Terps, now firmly in the NCAA tournament picture, to a better-than-expected finish in conference play.
The players are “starting to understand where we are,” Willard said. “It’s February. Games matter. Every game matters. So to come here on the road and play the way we did was really impressive.”