Kevin Willard on season turnaround, Jahmir Young, upcoming Purdue game

Maryland basketball turned its postseason outlook around after a six-point win against Michigan at home nearly one month ago, winning five of their next seven games. Fast forward to today and Maryland now finds themselves hovering the eight seed in tournament projections with nearly a month left until the postseason begins.

A catalyst for the Terps’ turnaround has been their defense, which showed flashes as early as the first game the season. After bouncing back from December’s tough stretch, Maryland now finds themselves among the best teams defensively in the conference, sitting fourth in scoring defense, after holding opponents under 60 points in five of the last eight games. “I think the biggest thing we’ve kind of got back to being a very good defensive team, really getting after it and more or less having fun on the defensive end,” Willard said during an interview with BTN. “I think we went through a little bit early in conference play where I just don’t think we were having as much fun, being as aggressive on the defensive end and I think the guys have done a really good job of getting back to how we’re playing a little bit earlier in the year of just being aggressive on the defensive end.”

A big reason why Maryland’s found its groove on the offensive end of the floor is credited to Jahmir Young, finishing in double figures in all but one game in 2023. Whether it’s from beyond the arc or carving his way through the paint, Young has quickly entrenched himself in first team All-Big Ten discussion as he enters Thursday averaging over 16 points per game. “I think Jahmir is playing as good as any guard in this conference, if not the country. He has given us not only great points and assists on the court, but he’s been a great presence in timeouts and practice. He’s really developed into a really good leader. He’s got a great toughness about him. He loves to compete and I think as he’s kind of gotten used to this league and the physicality and the size of the league, as he’s gotten more comfortable, so is our offense.”

Maryland checked in at 28th in the updated NET rankings this week and will look to move to 4-7 in Quad 1 games when they host Purdue for a 6:30 PM tipoff on Thursday. Maryland fell short on the road last month in a 61-58 loss and will look to hand Purdue its second consecutive loss following Sunday’s 64-58 loss at Northwestern. The Boilermakers led by as many as 16 and took a 14-point lead into the locker room before the Terps flipped the script in the second half, but Maryland head coach Kevin Willard knows his team has a chance to punch back inside Xfinity Center.

“I think the biggest thing for us is we gotta figure a way to score against them. I don’t think they get enough credit for how good they are defensively. They protect Zach [Edey] tremendously. The two young freshman guards man, they work on the defensive end. I don’t think they get enough credit for how hard they work and how much they picked up a college scheme so quickly. They’re physical, they’re big. We gotta also gotta find a way to stop Gillis because I think he’s been really key [to] the way they’ve been playing lately.”

Less than 900 tickets remain for Thursday’s contest and Willard needs a similar atmosphere that the team enjoyed during Saturday’s win over Penn State.

“Obviously you have to deal with Zach and I think everyone in the country is still trying to deal with it. Chris and Northwestern played such a great game yesterday. It was a fun game to watch. It was great to see that atmosphere. We’re gonna need the same atmosphere and we’re gonna have to play just as tough as Chris and Northwestern did.”

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