By Jack Rothenberg
An unrelenting defensive performance for the Maryland Terrapins allowed them to get out to an early lead and eventually become the first team to defeat the Minnesota Golden Gophers on their home court this season 63-49. Maryland held Minnesota to 30% shooting from the field and outrebounded the Golden Gophers by eight. The Terps earned their third win on the road against a ranked team this season in Big Ten play – the first time in program history Maryland has won three road games in one season against ranked opponents. This could prove important in terms of building their resume for March.
Maryland started with a smaller starting lineup than usual with sophomore guard Hakim Hart taking senior forward Galin Smith’s spot. According to head coach Mark Turgeon it was an attempt to get more experience on the floor. The maneuver paid off, because Maryland raced to an early 17-3 lead with a 12-1 run in the first eight minutes. Junior guard Eric Ayala (21 points) scored eight points over that stretch and looked to be fully healed from his groin injury that forced him to miss two games last week. The Golden Gophers were playing a very sloppy brand of basketball that allowed the Terps to hold the lead, but a little of that eventually rubbed off onto Maryland. After the under eight minute timeout, the Terps turned the ball over on six of their next seven possessions, giving Minnesota the opportunity to crawl back into the contest and close the gap to 20-17 resulting in a Maryland timeout.
Following the pause in play, Maryland came out and was much more organized. By taking better care of the ball and creating good offense, the Terps extended their lead to nine at halftime going into the break with a 36-27 lead.
Maryland was able to neutralize Minnesota’s biggest threat down low, junior center Liam Robbins by getting him into foul trouble. The combination of junior forward Jairus Hamilton, sophomore forward Donta Scott, and Smith held Robbins to just six points on six shots. The seven foot tall junior was limited to 22 minutes, and picked up his third foul within the first minute of the second half.
Robbins picked up his fourth under two minutes later, leaving the Golden Gophers no option but to sit him down for the majority of the period. In the second half whenever Minnesota showed a sign of life, a player for Maryland always stepped up and made a play. The Terps started the half cold, which gave Minnesota an early chance to make a comeback. After Minnesota’s leading scorer Marcus Carr made two consecutive jump shots, junior guard Aaron Wiggins halted any possible momentum by knocking one down of his own giving Maryland a 41-32 lead. With just over 12 minutes to play the Golden Gophers cut the lead to six, but Ayala went on a five point spurt to push the lead back to 11.
From that point on the game was firmly in Maryland’s grasp as they continued their astounding defensive effort, forcing Minnesota to shoot 6-25 from the field in the second half. In the postgame, Ayala talked about the team’s ability to find a way to get a win in desperate times. “That kind of might be the thing. Just the situations where we know we need to win. It’s a little different sense of urgency…we just want to play like that everyday,” Ayala said.
Senior guard Darryl Morsell discussed when he realized the team was going to be locked in defensively for this game. “In practice,” he said laughing at his own response. We kinda try to pride ourselves on defense. We understand that with this team this year, it’s going to be a lot different. So we focus on getting stops and winning low-scoring close games,” Morsell said.
The Terps now have a quick turnaround, as they return home to host the Wisconsin Badgers on Jan. 30, nearly a month after they beat them at the Kohl Center. Just as it was in the game against Minnesota, the key will be on the defensive end. Will they be able to replicate this type of performance? It’ll be a tough task and certainly interesting to watch.
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