CHICAGO — After an upset-heavy start to a Big Ten tournament that saw all five lower-seeded teams win the first five matchups, the Terps took to the United Center court against a bottom-seeded Golden Gophers team looking to avoid a similar fate.
The heavy favorites stumbled a bit out of the gates, but didn’t fall. No. 6 seed Maryland men’s basketball (21-11) fended off No. 14 seed Minnesota (9-22), 70-54, throughout Thursday’s matchup in the second round of the Big Ten tournament.
Coach Kevin Willard’s squad bounced back from back-to-back losses to end the regular season and will take on No. 3 seed Indiana in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament on Friday. The Terps are now 4-7 in the conference tournament since joining the Big Ten, earning just their second win in the competition since 2017.
“When you’re in this as long as I’ve been … I always look at the big picture,” Willard said. “I look at Penn State and Ohio State playing really good, and those are our last two losses. I thought we were playing good basketball so I really wasn’t worried about anything.”
Maryland continued the dominance of its regular season series sweep, finishing the year with three wins over Minnesota by a combined 69 points. The Terps swept a team 3-0 for the first time since the 2012-13 season, when they recorded three victories over Wake Forest.
Maryland elected to pull up from deep early, using makes from Hakim Hart and Donta Scott to garner a six-point lead early. Coach Kevin Willard’s squad shot 50 percent from deep in the first half on 12 attempts.
The Terps owed their success from range and their lead throughout much of the first frame to Scott, who put on his best scoring performance since late November against Miami.
The senior hit four of Maryland’s six first-half three-pointers and scored 16 points — more than 50 percent of the team’s first-half output — in the opening 20 minutes while no other Terp notched more than five. Scott finished with 20 points on 46.1 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from deep. He scored just four points in the second half.
Despite Maryland’s struggle to find a consistent offensive threat apart from Scott, its defense kept Minnesota at bay. The Terps forced two ten-second violations and four turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game, putting their press to use against the most turnover-prone team in the conference.
Coach Kevin Willard’s squad forced 15 turnovers throughout the game and held Minnesota to 54 points, its lowest total since its 35-point loss to the Terps on Feb. 4.
“We pride ourselves on defense,” Scott said. “It’s all about defense, defense wins games, and we really get into each other, after each other when we have practice and we take that mindset into the game.”
However, Maryland’s defensive intensity came at a cost. Julian Reese picked up two fouls inside the opening 12 minutes and fellow big men Patrick Emilien and Caelum Swanton-Rodger finished the opening frame with three infractions each, but the Terps took a 31-24 lead into the break.
The Golden Gophers encountered the same issue early in the second half, with starters Dawson Garcia, Joshua Ola-Joseph and Jaden Henley all picking up their fourth fouls of the game within the first six minutes of the frame. Henley fouled out and four of Minnesota’s starters finished with four or more fouls.
Don Carey added more makes from behind the arc to extend Maryland’s lead to as large as 15 early in the second half. The guard recorded his fifth straight game in double figures and went 3-for-7 from deep.
“The main thing is just being shot ready, and being ready to shoot the ball all the time so my teammates find me,” Carey said.
Hart and Jahmir Young joined in on offense to buoy Scott’s decreased second-half production. The duo combined for just four points in the first half but both got important and-one layups to fall late in the game with Minnesota hanging around. The pair finished with a combined 19 second-half points.
The pair’s success was emblematic of the Terps’ more holistic offensive showing in the second half. Each Maryland starter ended the game with at least eight points as Willard’s squad fended off the bottom-seeded Golden Gophers and extended their stay in the Big Ten tournament.