Hakim Hart navigated through traffic before pivoting, crossing over and elevating through a Penn State defender’s grab. Hart’s shot landed as he slid onto the floor.
Hart relished the moment. Jahmir Young stood over Hart as he peered up to see his teammates’ reactions amidst an electric crowd response after the three-point play.
The winning moment completed as his free throw dropped in and the Terps (17-8, 8-6 Big Ten) took a ten-point lead they would never relinquish to rival Penn State (14-11, 5-9 Big Ten) and Jalen Pickett in a 74-68 victory over the Nittany Lions.
Hart notched the highest-scoring Big Ten game of his career as he finished with a game-high 23 points, adding five rebounds and four assists.
“Hakim’s like the heart of the team,” Young said of his teammate. “He does all the little stuff, especially defensively, so to see him get going like that on offense, [we’re] really just trying to get him the ball and let him work. He was on tonight.”
Coach Kevin Willard said that Hart was in a position to shine largely because Young spent so much energy guarding Pickett and Maryland needed a scoring focus. Pickett finished with 15 points, three rebounds and five assists.
“[Hakim Hart] did a great job of probing, being aggressive, finding guys, and when the game was close, getting to the basket,” Willard said.
Hart reaped the rewards of his performance with the win and endless attention from his teammates celebrating with the senior after the game.
“Pretty cool moment,” Hart said. “Being a leader on this team means a lot to me because I’ve been here for four years and I just want to do great things.”
Penn State’s Pickett represented a different challenge than Maryland had been presented over the course of the season by players like Purdue’s Zach Edey, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr.
The Naismith Player of the Year Midseason Team honoree has flashed a dynamic skill-set that lends itself to a unique 17 points, seven assists and seven rebounds per game average. Pickett played on the same team as Don Carey at Siena for two seasons before Carey transferred to Georgetown.
But Pickett looked absent in the opening minutes as Maryland stifled the Nittany Lions on defense by disrupting passing lanes and nullifying inside shot attempts. As such, Penn State turned over the ball enough to kickstart the Terps’ offense, notching 10 giveaways in the first half.
“We just wanted [Pickett] to see some pressure and I thought our press was pretty good early in the game and we softened up as it went on,” Willard said.
Hart was on the receiving end of one such turnover. The senior stole the ball and whipped a pass over to Young, who then floated the ball into the air for a high-flying alley-oop dunk by Ian Martinez.
But the Nittany Lions, who rely heavily on long-distance shooting for their scoring, ignited their three-point play soon enough to quell the surging Terps. Pickett eventually took the wheel for Penn State with a tough layup inside that kicked off a critical late 7-0 scoring run to tie the game late in the first half.
Young drained a three and a two-point jumper to end the first half, allowing Maryland to gain a narrow three-point advantage at the break despite dominating most of the half.
But Pickett wasn’t done yet.
The point guard stormed out of the gates in the second half to grab a quick lead for the Nittany Lions, their first of the game, with points on each of Penn State’s first three scoring possessions of the half.
The Terps found their footing with good interior plays from Donta Scott and Julian Reese before Young landed a three to make Maryland’s lead six points. But a quick three-point response from the Nittany Lions quickly neutralized the momentum.
Penn State’s long-range shooting kept them hanging around with Maryland despite falling short in rebounds and turnover differential. Three different Nittany Lions made at least three three-pointers and Penn State finished the game 12-for-26 from deep.
“I actually felt the defense was okay for pretty much most of the game,” Willard said. “We were okay giving up two’s against them, they’re going to shoot a high percentage [and] that’s just the way they play.”
But the moment the Nittany Lions’ three-point effort stalled, the Terps interjected on the offensive end. A fadeaway jumper off the dribble from Young boosted Maryland to seven-point lead, and then Hart elevated through contact for the layup and a foul.
Hart’s 15 second-half points on 6-for-7 shooting from the field proved too much for the Nittany Lions despite a spirited effort to the closing buzzer.