Maryland stays on NCAA Tournament bubble with win over Minnesota originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
With their backs against the wall, Maryland once again came out and earned a big win that they desperately needed.
On Sunday night it came at home against Minnesota, yet another difficult opponent in the toughest conference in the country. The Golden Gophers are no longer ranked as they were when Maryland won at The Barn earlier this year, but they are still a talented unit ranked 31st in the country, according to KenPom.
For the second straight matchup against Minnesota this season, the Terps started off hot and never looked back. On the road, they went up 17-3 before cruising to a 14-point victory. On Sunday in College Park, Maryland started 16-3 before winding up with a 72-59 victory.
In both games Maryland used a stifling defensive effort to create offensive opportunities. Their 72 points is the most they've scored in a conference game this season, thanks to a 10-of-20 three-point shooting effort. The outside shooting finally coming alive opened up the entire offense for Maryland, who ran with more pace than fans have seen most of this season.
The defense once again came to play as well. Star guard Marcus Carr, who torched Maryland in the first matchup, was held to just nine points Sunday night on 4-15 shooting. Liam Robbins, one of the best transfers in the country and one of the better big men in the conference, was held to just two points and three rebounds.
Maryland relied on an outstanding all-around game from its best players. Aaron Wiggins led the way with 17 points - including a gigantic three point prayer thrown up at the end of the shot clock after Minnesota had cut the lead to just six points - followed by Darryl Morsell with 13 and Eric Ayala with 12. The Terps are now 21-2 in the last two seasons when Morsell reaches double figures.
Transfer center Galin Smith also had his best game as a Terp, scoring 10 points on 4-4 shooting, to go along with five rebounds, two blocks and a career-high four assists. Even Donta Scott, the team's best player at times this season, recorded 11 rebounds to go along with his eight points.
This was a crucial game for a Maryland squad hoping to play its way into the NCAA Tournament. They've faced a brutal schedule this season, the toughest in the entire country according to some metrics. Prior to Sunday night, they had played a whopping 14 Quad 1 games according to the NET rankings, by far the most in the country, without a single Quad 2 game on the schedule.
They have no bad losses and multiple terrific wins including three on the road against ranked teams, but still they sit at just 11-10 overall thanks to that schedule. The slate lightens up the rest of the way - just one of their final six games comes against a currently ranked team - but in the deepest conference in America, it still won't be easy. If they can take advantage of the schedule lightening up a bit, however, they should be in decent position to eventually make the tournament.
Sunday night's win against Minnesota was an important first step toward that goal, and it speaks to Maryland's growing confidence that they managed to put on perhaps their best performance of the season as the lights are starting to shine brightest.
The Terps' next two games come back-to-back against Nebraska on Tuesday and Wednesday night, a scheduling quirk courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic.