Kevin Willard talks bounce back after Penn State, Big Ten Tournament prep, pair of vets

After watching the rest of the slate before settling in as a six-seed in the Big Ten, Maryland head coach Kevin Willard admitted Sunday’s road loss stung a bit extra for him and the team after squandering a double-bye opportunity.

“That’s probably the worst loss I’ve had as a head coach and I think the good thing is these guys were a little devastated, to be honest with you, because we played really well. That was the best we’ve played on the road in a while and give Penn State credit.”

Maryland will turn the page as they traveled to Chicago on Tuesday night in preparation for their Big Ten Tournament run beginning Thursday night. Maryland won’t know who their next opponent is until roughly 11 PM on Wednesday when Minnesota-Nebraska concludes, but that also gives the Terps a glimpse into what the prep routine looks like in March.

“You just don’t have as much time to prepare for your opponent,” head coach Kevin Willard said on Tuesday. “I think more than anything, I think we’re going into this week with an offensive gameplan to try to think of what we did against in Nebraska, what we did against Minnesota, and just take it one game at a time, really. Cause you just can’t look ahead to anything, just [because] single elimination.”

After struggling to find offense to close out Sunday’s game in a narrow defeat, Willard’s focus has been on the offensive end heading into the postseason run. “Defensively, we are who we are right now, so I like who we are defensively. It’s just offensively. We struggled the last five minutes of the game against Penn State offensively. If we had played a little better offensively, we would’ve been alright.”

Willard also took the podium on the same day that Jahmir Young led Maryland among five All-Big Ten selections, finishing as a second-team which Willard understandably took issue with. “I guess I’m a little biased. I thought he should have been first. I think the votes had to be in before the Penn State game anyways. I just think what he’s done for us in a year and where he’s brought us. We’ve put a lot on his back.”

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Meanwhile, Donta Scott is coming off a season-low one point after scoring in just two of his last seven games as Willard readjusts his workload. “He plays so darn hard. I think he’s worn himself out just a little bit when he gets to the offensive end. He doesn’t have as much in the tank as he did maybe earlier. I just think I need to do a better job of just getting him a little bit of a break here and then. I don’t like not having him on the floor, so again, it’s a little bit my fault [because] I feel when he is out there, he does good things even though he’s struggling with scoring right now.”

After joking that Maryland is “comfortable” with the 9:00 PM start after the Terps played three consecutive late tips earlier this month, Willard will embrace his first time in Chicago as a coach in the Big Ten. “I love watching all the other games, so I think that eats up a lot of your day,” he added. But should Maryland get through their first game, it sets up the first quick turnaround since the Hall of Fame Tipoff back in November.

“I think it’s the biggest thing is adjusting to the next, if you win your game and being able to adjust the next day and understanding what to do with your guys and how to get them recovered, how to get them prepared, how to put your scout report in, how to put your game plan in a very short period.”

Willard knows what leaves him confident in his team heading into postseason play.

“We’ve done a pretty good job with that. You know, like I said, like I, I’m looking forward to getting to practice [Tuesday]. I’ll be honest, you, I loved how disappointed we were after the game. You know, it was very, very emotional. There were guys yelling at each other, guys yelling at me. I love that. Their heart was into it. They wanted it. They knew it was at stake and I think when you have that much buy-in and kids care that much, that’s a good thing. That’s not a bad thing. And so, when we get out on the court here in about 30 minutes, it’s a new season.”

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