Penn State’s Jalen Pickett was trapped between two defenders and the baseline before Hakim Hart ripped the ball away and sprung the Terps into transition.
Jahmir Young, the other defender guarding Pickett, received a pass from Hart and got fouled on his layup attempt. He made both free throws as Maryland men’s basketball took advantage of a rare turnover from the projected All-Big Ten first team guard.
The Terps were able to keep Pickett in check for the most part during their 74-68 win over the Nittany Lions, smothering him with defensive pressure throughout Saturday’s game at Xfinity Center.
Coach Kevin Willard knew his squad would have to stifle the Nittany Lions’ key player before Saturday’s matchup, heaping praise on Pickett the day before the game.
“Pickett is probably as effective of a player as I’ve seen from the guard position in a really long time,” Willard said Friday. “[His] shooting percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, the way he posts up and takes his time, finds everybody … He is as efficient as a player for the minutes he’s logging, the amount of sessions that he has. He is unbelievable.”
[Hakim Hart’s 23 points helps Maryland men’s basketball fend off Penn State, 74-68]
Maryland’s defense held Pickett under his per game season averages of 17.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists.
The guard finished the game with 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field, his third lowest mark for field goal attempts in a conference matchup this season. He added three rebounds and five assists.
Young highlighted redshirt freshman Ike Cornish after the game for making his play as Pickett in Maryland’s practices leading up to the matchup “realistic.”
“We were able to double [Pickett], send him different reads, just trying to make it tough for him, keep him out of the paint as much as possible,” Young said.
The Terps applied that pressure from the opening tip-off, forcing a turnover on an attempted inside pass within three minutes. Pickett didn’t score in the first 14 minutes of the game and notched just four first-half points.
“We wanted to trap Pickett early, because no one’s really trapped him, no one’s doubled him,” Willard said. “We just want him to see some pressure.”
[Dismal three-point shooting cost Maryland men’s basketball in another close loss]
The guard got going a bit more in the second half by scoring the Nittany Lions’ first seven points of the frame, getting two close-range shots to fall before nailing an open three off of a ball screen.
Pickett scored just two more buckets for the rest of the game, the last of which came with seven seconds left, as the Terps refocused their defense around the senior.
Willard said Maryland chose not to rotate to freshman guard Kanye Clary in its efforts to focus on Pickett. Clary was the beneficiary of the Terps aggressive play on Penn State’s star guard, scoring a career-high 17 points and notching a career-high 23 minutes in the Nittany Lions’ loss.
“He kind of made us pay for it, but I think you just got to stick to something and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ so everyone on the court kind of knows what you want to do, because when Pickett gets rolling he’s a tough cover,” Willard said.
Despite Clary’s career day, his contributions weren’t enough as Maryland maintained its perfect home record in conference play, left unblemished as a result of their effective defense against one of the top guards in the Big Ten.