CHICAGO — Bottom-seeded Minnesota kept pace with Maryland men’s basketball for most of the first half Thursday with the trio of Jahmir Young, Hakim Hart and Julian Reese struggling from the field.
After a second-chance three splashed through the net seven minutes in, the Golden Gophers found themselves up two and were suddenly adding credence to the idea that they’d garnered an advantage from beating an opponent before taking on the Terps, who hadn’t played since Sunday.
Then Donta Scott shot to the forefront of the match.
Sitting open on the outside of a scramble for a loose ball after a missed Don Carey three, Scott grabbed a pitch from Jahari Long and flicked the ball through the hoop in one fluid motion.
He did that often in the first half. Scott went 4-for-5 from three and scored 16 points in the period in Thursday night’s 70-54 win over the Golden Gophers. Scott finished with 20 points — his most since a two-game, 49-point November stretch in which he topped the mark each time.
[Maryland men’s basketball beats Minnesota to advance to Big Ten tourney quarterfinals, 70-54]
“My teammates really found me early on — they had faith in my shot just like coach had faith in my shot,” Scott said following the win. “Even though it wasn’t falling, they told me to keep shooting. I got hot early on and they found a way to find me.”
Scott tied his season high for attempts and made three-pointers en route to 20 points overall on 6-for-13 shooting from the field and 4-for-8 shooting from three. He led Maryland in scoring and notched his highest scoring mark against a conference opponent this season.
Scott’s scoring prowess against Minnesota comes as the senior scored less than 10 points in five of his last seven games, with one of his double-digit performances against the Golden Gophers.
“[I’m trying to] just have a mindset that when the ball comes my way, I’ve got to be willing to knock down shots and be willing to not just shy away from the moment,” Scott said. “I’ve been a good shooter before and that hasn’t changed.”
Scott cooled considerably in the second half, but after going a combined 2-for-13 from the field in the first half, Reese, Young and Hart bounced back with an improved 8-for-15 mark. Young led the team in scoring in the second half with 14 points.
[Don Carey finds his form for Maryland as he nears the end of his sixth collegiate season]
Minnesota coach Ben Johnson lamented that the Golden Gophers let Scott get into a groove.
“Our ball-screen coverage when we went into the game, changed it a little bit on him and gave him a couple of open looks on his ball-screen stuff and [did] a good job making them,” Johnson said.
The senior landed five of Maryland’s 11 first-half makes.
“The second half we were able to do a little bit on him [and] limit his touches,” Johnson said. “A player like that, you can’t let them get into a flow early. We did that, and he capitalized.”
No. 6 seed Maryland will take on No. 3 seed Indiana on Friday, jostling for a chance for its first trip to the Big Ten tournament semifinals since the 2015-16 season.
But it took Scott’s skill from range early to boost the Terps to play on Friday.
“My teammates believe in me,” Scott said. “My coach believes in me, and I believe in myself.”