By Jack Rothenberg:
In what felt like a must-win game to keep any chance of making the NCAA Tournament alive, the Maryland Terrapins took care of business against the Minnesota Golden Gophers 72-59 Sunday night at the Xfinity Center. The Terps built a large lead behind a rare display of hot shooting finishing at 53 percent from the field while holding Minnesota to 32 percent. It was a total team effort with four players in double figures and sophomore forward Donta Scott contributing eight points and 11 rebounds.
The Terps controlled the first half opening the game on a 16-3 run that almost matched Maryland’s 17-3 run that opened the first meeting between the two teams. A 3-3 start from deep, coming from three different players, got Maryland off to a much needed fast start. One of those players was junior guard Aaron Wiggins who tallied nine of his game high 17 points in the first half.
Maryland also got Minnesota center Liam Robbins into early foul trouble which not only sidelined him for the majority of the half but helped negate Minnesota’s size advantage in the post. As a result the Terps controlled the boards in the period finishing with a 20-13 advantage.
After Minnesota took a 3-2 lead, the Terrapins ran off 14 consecutive points before a three point jumper by Marcus Carr ended the Gophers’ drought. That didn’t slow Maryland’s momentum as they extended the lead to 14 behind a Wiggins jumper and a thunderous slam by Galin Smith who earned his reward for running the court after blocking a shot by Jamal Mashburn, Jr.
Following the under 12 timeout, Minnesota sank two free throws to cut the lead to 10. The Golden Gophers were starting to claw their way back, but once again the Terps not only kept them at bay but with four buckets coming from four different players went on a 9-0 run that extended their lead to 29-10.
The Terps played one of their best halves of the year on both ends of the floor and took a 44-28 lead into the break.
Maryland carried a double digit lead throughout most of the second half, and seemed destined to cruise to a victory. However, with five minutes remaining the Golden Gophers started to mount a comeback. After a Wiggins three pointer put the Terps up by 17, their offense went cold and Minnesota went on an 11-0 run. With their lead down to 65-59, the Terps desperately needed an answer and it came from Wiggins.
With the shot clock winding down, Wiggins curled around a Scott screen and, although closely defended by Mashburn, Jr got him off his feet with a shot fake before launching a missile from NBA range. He hit the target and a nine point lead with two minutes left effectively put the game out of reach.
Looking forward, the door to a possible NCAA bid remains open with Maryland’s last six games all coming against unranked opponents. While this game was important to stay in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid, realistically the Terps’ will need to win at least four of their last six to have a chance. Maryland will play the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Feb. 16 and Feb. 17, both at home, because of a cancellation due to COVID-19 earlier in the year.
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