With no one near him, Jamal Mashburn Jr. barrelled to the rack. He had a seemingly easy dunk, something he and his Minnesota teammates desperately needed as they tried to stop a long Maryland men’s basketball run.
But Galin Smith stepped up. The Terps’ forward viciously swatted away Mashburn’s attempt, keeping momentum firmly on Maryland’s side. And as he charged down the court, Smith took a drive of his own to the hoop. He thunderously threw it down, sending his teammates into a frenzy.
That sequence was one of many high effort stretches for the Terps Sunday evening. The squad had struggled to play a complete game on both ends of the floor all season, but showed no such issues against the Golden Gophers, as Maryland outshot Minnesota, 52.9 percent to 32.2 percent. That led the Terps past the Gophers, 72-59, for a resume-building win.
“It was good to see … shots go down, to see us flying around on defense, all locked in,” guard Darryl Morsell said.
All season, Maryland has struggled to finish possessions, particularly when it has had open looks. Shots regularly clang off the iron, each successive miss leading to greater frustrations for the Terps.
But Maryland (11-10, 5-9 Big Ten) converted early and often against Minnesota. Eric Ayala found himself with space off an inbound and drilled the three. Donta Scott then challenged Brandon Johnson straight up and buried a triple of his own. And Aaron Wiggins found net following a miss from Johnson on the other end.
That was a common theme for Marcus Carr and the Gophers, whose inability to find room to operate their offense led to opportunities for the Terps. Maryland was quick with its closeouts all evening, forcing Carr and Liam Robbins — Minnesota’s two leading scorers — to the outside and into tough looks with regularity.
And when the Gophers (13-8, 6-8) tried to crash the lane, it often ended in failure. Such was Mashburn’s fate when he attempted to throw one down over Smith. The 6-foot-9 forward swatted the ball away with vigor, then sprinted down the court, received a dish from Ayala, and slammed it home, capping an 18-3 run for the Terps.
“That gave us a lot of energy,” Smith, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds, said. “Plays like that be really big for us.”
Minnesota began to find slightly more success on offense as the game carried on. Two layups from Carr and a run of free throws from Johnson helped the Gophers cut the deficit to 12.
But Maryland had an answer each time. Ayala and Scott each cashed from deep while falling to their backs, Smith spun away from Robbins underneath the basket for a layup and Morsell followed a missed free throw with a lay-in of his own.
Coach Mark Turgeon preaches those little things, that effort, as pivotal to success. Maryland had not been able to put it all together for a full 40 minutes in Big Ten play.
But Morsell’s follow through showcased a different side of the Terps, one that had implemented Turgeon’s pleas and saw success for it.
“We’re getting a little bit better with our execution,” Turgeon said. “We’ve been working hard at it, but it looks better when shots go in.”
And in the opening of the second half when Maryland briefly stumbled, those fundamentals went away. A shot clock violation off a timeout, a travel, two offensive rebounds for Isaiah Ihnen leading to points, and the Terps found themselves lagging behind their first half pace.
Despite those missteps, Maryland’s defense held strong. And when the rash of turnovers slowed, the Terps rediscovered their offensive efficiency.
A jumper from Morsell, a three from Jairus Hamilton and an and-one from Hakim Hart ended the mini-slump. And both sides resumed the give and take, a smooth Wiggins three here, a nifty Mashburn bucket there, as Maryland held Minnesota at arm’s length.
“Our offense gives our players a lot of freedom,” Morsell said. “Guys know where to attack, and we’re starting to pick the right spots.”
A late 11-0 run sparked by Mashburn, Ihnen and Tre’ Williams cut the Gophers’ deficit to single digits, but a calm three from Wiggins and a lay-in from Morsell quashed the threat and pushed the Terps over the finish line. Wiggins led all scorers with 17 points and was one of four Maryland players in double figures.
Though the Terps weren’t entirely dominant, they stayed on top throughout the contest. It’s a welcoming sign for a team looking to get something out of what had been a torrid season at times.
Whether the win pushes Maryland a step further to the NCAA tournament remains to be seen. But with every dunk, every three and every stop, the Terps looked a team more confident — and perhaps ready to perform on a bigger stage.
“I don’t want none of us looking too far in advance,” Morsell said. “I just want us coming in the gym every day for practice and just try to get better. I think if we get better every day, the results will come.”