After he floated in an easy basket in the paint, Xavier Green retreated back on defense.
Green stood in a defensive stance in front of Jalen Pickett. But while doing so, he contributed a few of what interim head coach Danny Manning calls “energy-generating behaviors.”
Green crossed his arms and held up his hallmark “X” in front of the challenging Pickett. He repeatedly raised his arms to rile up the red-out Xfinity Center crowd. Steadily, the Maryland faithful roared to life, not only to celebrate Green’s bucket, but to support the Terps in what eventually became a second straight win.
Maryland men’s basketball topped Penn State, 67-61, to set a potential winning streak into motion. Though the Terps haven’t won two games in a row since Jan. 25, they’ve done it this time by playing some of their most consistent basketball in recent games.
“Extremely happy for our guys to have two straight wins,” Manning said. “We were playing a really talented and very tough Penn State team, we knew it would be a challenge, [I’m] proud of the way our guys responded.”
Pride has been running through the Maryland locker room for the past few weeks. After keeping pace with then-No. 3 Purdue, beating Nebraska and gaining a victory against the Nittany Lions, the Terps have a tangible level of confidence showing through in their game.
[Maryland men’s basketball beats Penn State for second straight win, 67-61]
“We have a couple more games left. We’re just trying to build some type of momentum, some type of energy going into this Big Ten tournament,” Fatts Russell said.
And that’s just what the Terps have done. Maryland has remedied many of its previous issues. It struggled to shoot and defend dominant shooters as conference play began.
The Terps were able to hold Pickett, Penn State’s leading scorer, to just 6-for-18 — or 33 percent — from the field.
Though Russell didn’t appear in the scoring column in the first half, he shot up to 18 points in the second — the Nittany Lions were unable to hold him down despite two early fouls.
Eric Ayala came closer to his pre-injury form against Penn State as well. With the Terps’ leading scorer back in the rotation, their offense has returned to a higher potential.
Ayala dropped 13 points on the Nittany Lions — the most he’s scored since Maryland played Michigan State on Feb. 1. But Ayala did more than contribute in the score column.
“He made his presence felt right from the get-go,” Manning said. “Coming off screens really hard, squaring up, being aggressive, looking at the basket, and when he does that, he opens up so many different things for the team.”
The Terps also forced Penn State into 13 turnovers they were able to convert into 18 points.
The great number of steals the Terps collected goes back to one of Manning’s key defensive philosophies. His squad has been excelling at playing defense with their heads and feet while staying careful with their arms.
This strategy has allowed Maryland to rack up steals and turnovers while avoiding sending opponents to the free-throw line and giving away easy baskets. Penn State took just five free throws Monday night.
The Terps succeeded at executing one of Manning’s visions of getting to the free-throw line and converting on scoring opportunities. They drained 15-of-19 free throws.
[After snapping losing streak, Maryland men’s basketball wants to make defense a priority]
With improved shooting, better defense and more frequent steals, along with Manning’s other favorite “energy-generating behaviors,” the Terps’ play is starting to come together. After a season of unexpected turbulence, the players and staff are enjoying their recent success.
“It’s always exciting to win. A lot of guys are just really excited because we came here to win. And these last couple games we’ve been winning,” Donta Scott said.
But, with the Big Ten tournament and multiple challenging opponents coming with the end of the season, the “next game” mentality still perseveres through Maryland’s confidence.
“The guys just basically go in the locker room after every game and just say good job to each other, have each other’s back,” Scott said. “Basically just saying, ‘let’s get on to the next,’ because once we finish this game we’re to the very next.”