Willard credits atmosphere, Jahmir Young in win versus Wisconsin

In the first of three consecutive home games against unranked opponents in a critical stretch that could determine Big Ten seeding and a potential NCAA tournament berth, Maryland basketball came out swinging, dominating Wisconsin 73-55.

With the win, Maryland (13-7, 4-5 Big Ten) improves to 10-1 at home and finds itself right in the thick of things in the Big Ten.

This is the beginning of a favorable portion of Maryland’s schedule after a difficult stretch in December and January saw them go winless on the road. At 3-5 in the Big Ten standings entering Wednesday’s game, there were worries surrounding their NCAA tournament hopes. With school back in session, Maryland looked to its crowd to provide energy to begin this crucial stretch.

“This building, especially when the students are in it, is electric,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said. “We haven’t really capitalized on big runs, but we’ve gone on some good mini-runs with the press, and it has really helped having a really good home crowd behind us.”

“That wall is really cool. This is a real, true home court advantage,” he added.

With matchups against Nebraska (10-10, 3-6 Big Ten) and Indiana (13-6, 4-4 Big Ten) on the horizon, this stretch is crucial for Maryland to make up ground and force its way onto the right side of the bubble.

Wisconsin (12-7, 4-5) entered Wednesday’s matchup having just lost to Northwestern on Monday. The last time the Badgers played back to back road games just two days apart was in 2006.

Maryland started Wednesday’s game against Wisconsin with more offensive flow than it has shown in the first halves of previous games. Jahmir Young was once again the catalyst for the Terps, as he was able to get to the basket at will against the Badgers. Young, Hakim Hart, Julian Reese and Donta Scott combined for 63 of Maryland’s 73 points on Wednesday night as the Terps’ 56% shooting percentage was their best in a conference game since March 8, 2020.

Unlike Sunday at Purdue – where he was held scoreless until the 14:44 mark of the second half – Young made his presence felt early with 11 first half points on 5-10 shooting. He finished with 22 points and eight rebounds.

“I don’t think he even needs to come out [of the game],” Willard said about Young. “I think he’s got in great shape, comfortable with the size, the length [of the Big Ten]. I think he’s gotten much more comfortable with the offense.”

As the teams traded baskets throughout the first half, a Maryland scoring drought that lasted 6:31 halted their offensive production. A pair of Don Carey free throws at the 6:26 mark got the Terps back in the scoring column, which led to a 12-0 run that saw them jump out to a 32-23 lead late in the first half.

Wisconsin promptly responded by scoring the final five points of the half to trim the Maryland lead to 32-28.

The second half was an active one for Maryland big man Julian Reese, as his two big dunks helped punctuate a stretch that saw the Terps make eight straight field goals and increase their lead to 13.

Reese – who is coming off one of the best games of his college career on Sunday at Purdue – was not too shabby against Wisconsin either, scoring 14 points on an efficient 7-8 shooting as he continues his hot stretch.

“I think we need to put [Reese] in the conversation of being one of the best five-men in this league right now considering what he did over the last three games against three of the best big guys in the country,” Willard said.

His performance was crucial to Maryland’s ability to control the interior, as the Terps were once again able to dominate the points in the paint margin 38-22.

Aside from Young and Reese, a resurgence from both Scott and Hart is something that Maryland fans and Willard have been waiting to see in Big Ten play.

“He’s been a tough matchup every night,” Willard said of Scott. “He has been really working extra on his shot, working extra on his game.”

Scott showed glimpses of the player that dominated the Hall of Fame tournament in Mohegan Sun back in November, as he notched a double-double and was engaged on both sides of the ball. His 14-point effort energized the Terps and his four offensive rebounds extended possessions to allow more shot opportunities for his teammates.

Hart was able to contribute in a different role, dishing out a season-high eight assists to go along with his 13 points. His ability to facilitate helped Maryland shoot a very solid 56% from the field in the 18-point victory.

“Hak has been playing great,” Willard said of Hart. “He hasn’t been shooting the ball great, but he’s been playing great.”

“I really thought that matchup with Hakim was something we could just ride,” he added.

Maryland will welcome Nebraska into the Xfinity Center on Saturday, the second of this three-game home stretch.

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