CHICAGO — After Maryland ended its regular season with a letdown, the Terrapins gathered in the visitors’ locker room and their emotion poured out. There was a lot of yelling — at each other, at their coach — because they knew the stakes. Maryland’s collapse, a fumbled rebound and Penn State’s basket at the buzzer sent the Terps tumbling to a No. 6 seed in the Big Ten tournament.
A win would have allowed Maryland to bypass Thursday’s second round at United Center. Instead, the Terrapins had to play Minnesota, but they rebounded against the bottom-seeded Golden Gophers, 70-54, despite early struggles from standout point guard Jahmir Young and significant foul trouble for the team’s big men.
Maryland advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals to face No. 3 seed Indiana, a team the Terps beat at home earlier this season. Even though this second-round win came against the team that finished Big Ten play in last place, the victory starts Kevin Willard’s first postseason as Maryland’s coach on a positive note — just after his first regular season in College Park ended with frustration.
“Their heart was into it. They wanted it. They knew what was at stake,” Willard said of the locker room scene after the loss at Penn State. “When you have that much buy-in and kids care that much, that’s a good thing.”
The Terps entered the postseason off back-to-back road losses, but Willard said he looks at the “big picture.” Both those opponents, Ohio State and Penn State, have played well lately and advanced to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
“We came out with a great mind-set,” Willard said.
Since joining the Big Ten before the 2014-15 season, the Terps haven’t won more than one game in the conference tournament or advanced to the championship, compiling a record of just 3-7. The win over Minnesota is a small step toward reversing that trend.
“In the tournament, the first game’s always the hardest game to break through,” said Don Carey, who won the 2021 Big East tournament when he played at Georgetown.
Donta Scott, a four-year starter for the Terps, powered Maryland (21-11) with a 16-point burst and four three-pointers in the first half. He finished with 20 points, but his early sharpshooting helped the Terps build a lead.
Scott had struggled on offense lately, scoring fewer than 10 points in five of Maryland’s previous seven games. Willard said the senior has been “a little worn out.” Scott logged 32 minutes against the Gophers, but Willard said his defensive assignment wasn’t as difficult and that kept him fresh.
Maryland had a double-digit advantage for much of the second half, but Minnesota (9-22) trimmed the deficit to nine with a pair of three-pointers from freshman Braeden Carrington with about six minutes remaining. The Terps responded, with Young delivering eight points in the final five minutes to help the Terps avoid an upset. Before the Terps’ victory, lower seeds were 5-0 in the tournament.
Minnesota attempted just 13 shots from beyond the arc (making five). The Gophers instead leaned on their production in the paint (28 points), and freshman forward Pharrel Payne scored a team-high 17 points off the bench. Minnesota relies on a seven-man rotation, and starting forward Jaden Henley fouled out with 7:17 to go, shifting even more of the load onto his teammates playing for a second straight day.
Maryland swept Minnesota during the regular season, posting its only conference road win of the season in Minneapolis. In Big Ten play, Maryland had an abysmal away record (1-9) to go with its 10-0 mark at home. For the rest of the season, the Terps will play on neutral courts. Despite the losses to end the regular season, Willard said his team had fun in practice this week and he wants them to stay loose during the postseason.
“I can handle the pressure,” Willard said. “I want them to enjoy this moment. We have four or five guys that are never going to play college basketball again. I want them to be able to sit back and realize this is a lot of fun.”
Here’s what else to know about Maryland’s win:
When Maryland added Carey to its roster in the offseason, he had a history of being a prolific three-point shooter. But with the Terps, he has struggled to find consistency. Willard remained committed to Carey, who is in his sixth season of college basketball, and the veteran has begun to reward that confidence.
With 11 points in the win over Minnesota, Carey reached double figures for the fifth straight game. Before this strong stretch, he had only twice delivered back-to-back outings with at least 10 points. Against the Gophers, he made 3 of 7 shots from three-point range; he has shot 48.1 percent from beyond the arc during this five-game spurt.
Carey’s production helped make up for Young’s quiet start. Young, the Terps’ best player and leading scorer, missed his first seven attempts, including several layups, before he broke through with a basket with 11:45 remaining. Young’s late burst helped him finish with 15 points on 3-for-13 shooting.
Maryland’s big men dealt with serious foul trouble. Patrick Emilien, who rotates as the primary backup at power forward and center, picked up his third foul with more than six minutes remaining in the first half. By then, starting forward Julian Reese already had two. Willard had little choice but to play Caelum Swanton-Rodger, a rarely used freshman center, but then he committed three fouls in just three minutes before halftime.
Reese got called for his third foul less than a minute into the second half, and Emilien committed his fourth a few minutes later. Reese logged 18 minutes in the second half and kept his poise, scoring eight of his 10 points after the break.
“He’s a very smart basketball player,” Willard said of Reese. “He understands how not to foul at times. … I think I play guys with two fouls more than just about anybody because I have a lot of confidence in these guys, especially Julian.”