Terps trio too much for Minnesota in 88-70 victory at home

After it saw an eight-point lead crumble late in the second half of Sunday’s disappointing overtime loss at Nebraska, Maryland basketball returned home to a venue it is much more familiar with on Wednesday, resulting in a dominant 18-point thumping of Minnesota, 88-70.

Maryland’s trio of Donta Scott, Hakim Hart and Julian Reese combined for 59 points as the Terps used a 25-4 extended first-half run to grab a 17-point halftime lead, en route to their 10th win in conference play and eighth straight at home.

“We really were rolling there for a while – I think at one point we were 30-for-40 – so it was definitely good to be back at home,” head coach Kevin Willard said following the win. “I think Donta making a couple of shots early really helped relax everybody. We struggled to score against Nebraska’s defense; I thought we started a little bit slow tonight. It was our third game in seven days – these end-of-the-year stretches can be tough. I thought Ian gave us a really good boost defensively; once we got going defensively that really allowed us to open up offensively.”

Reese continued his recent surge of becoming one of the league’s most dominant big men, finishing with a Big Ten career-high of 21 points on 9-11 shooting and ripping down 12 rebounds, his seventh straight game scoring in double-figures.

“I said it last game, I don’t think I would trade Julian for anybody,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said. “He’s matured, … defensively he’s been really, really good. I think everyone is starting to see the guy I saw in practice.”

Reese’s performance followed the Nebraska game which saw him score 16 points and grab a career-high 16 rebounds in what his head coach called, “the quietest 16-and-16 game ever.”

“I feel like [Minnesota] just let me get to the middle, get to my left-hook over the right shoulder a lot,” Reese said. “Just running the floor, getting rebounds, cleaning up misses, … things like that.”

Despite a 20-point performance on only eight shots, Hart did a little bit of everything on both sides of the court for the Terps.

“I think Hak has got very comfortable with the offense and very comfortable with what we’re asking him to do,” Willard said. “… I like the fact that he is shooting the basketball with confidence. Him and Julian in the two-man game is one of our highest percentages, so it’s good to see a senior playing the way he is.”

Hart added four steals to go along with his four rebounds and six assists, clogging passing lanes and making it hard for the Gophers (11 turnovers) to compete with Maryland’s offensive output.

Scott, his fellow senior, shot 2-16 from the field at Nebraska, but knew he had to “just keep shooting” to find his stroke again.

“I just told him yesterday, I said ‘Donta, you just have to relax,'” Willard said. “He missed six layups against Nebraska, they were all good shots. … I thought he was much more relaxed [tonight].”

Scott finished with 18 points on an efficient 7-9 from the field.

When the two teams first met on Feb. 4, Maryland rode a strong first-half effort to a 35-point victory, tying its highest margin since joining the Big Ten. The first half of Wednesday’s matchup looked like it had the potential of being just as ugly.

Defense was optional in the early stages of the first half, as Minnesota capitalized on some lethargic Maryland lapses to go ahead 13-8.

Minnesota’s leading scorer Dawson Garcia missed the first matchup against Maryland with injury, but showed no signs of rust in his second game back from the bone bruise, scoring 13 first-half points to pace the Gophers.

Jamison Battle, the Gophers second-leading scorer who produced an Xfinity Center-tying 39 points in last season’s matchup between the two teams, entered Wednesday’s tilt fresh off a 31-point performance just two days prior at Illinois.

It was a slightly different story for Battle this go-around in College Park, as the junior was held scoreless in the first half, taking only three shots. He finished with eight points on 3-8 shooting.

With the game knotted at 20, Maryland tightened its screws defensively, cooling Minnesota down with its full-court press, which was implemented after made baskets. The ability to score at a higher clip benefitted Maryland and allowed the Terps to constantly pressure the ball in the backcourt.

Maryland shot a blistering 73% from the field in the first half, connecting on 4-of-5 from three-point range. The improved shooting continued in the second, as the Terps nearly finished the game better from three (54%) than they did from the free-throw line (65%).

After a Don Carey jumper fell with just over six minutes to play in the game, all of Maryland’s starters were in double-figure scoring.

“At any given night, anybody can go off,” Scott said. “I feel like every guy on the team is capable of stepping up to the plate, … and tonight a lot of guys made shots.”

Having such a big lead allowed Willard to rest some of his starters, much to their chagrin.

“They didn’t want to come out,” Willard said. “They were mad, … [but] they get a day off tomorrow.”

With the win, Maryland has momentarily leaped ahead of a cluster of teams at 9-7 in the bunched-up Big Ten. The Terps will face Northwestern on Sunday for their final game at the Xfinity Center.

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