Making the case for Donta Scott as Maryland's best player originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The more Maryland plays this season, the more obvious it becomes that sophomore forward Donta Scott is the team's best player.
Scott's second-half performance on Christmas Day against Purdue keyed a furious Maryland comeback, though the Terps ended up losing 73-30. Despite falling short, Scott's latest breakout game was once again one of the team's lone bright spots.
The Pennsylvania native was held scoreless in a rare bad first half against the Boilermakers on Friday, but he bounced back with an enormous second half in which he scored all 15 of his points to lead the team in scoring. During the half, Maryland overcame a 13-point halftime deficit, though was never quite able to get over the hump.
Maryland's offense was crisp and smooth during their nonconference schedule. After their first few games, the Terps actually led the entire country in eFG%. In other words, they were the best shooting team in the nation. But since facing Clemson and then beginning Big Ten conference play, the Terps have struggled to find open shots and their shooting numbers have cratered. On Friday, that manifested in the form of ice-cold shooting to start the game from beyond the arc, and a brutal performance at the free throw line (10-21) all day long.
With the team struggling to create shots, head coach Mark Turgeon has been forced to rely on his breakout sophomore to generate his own offense. And more often than not, Scott has delivered.
After Friday's loss, Scott is second on the team with 13.0 points per game. He's scored at least 11 points in seven of the team's eight games this season, providing a level of consistency more talented players like Aaron Wiggins and more experienced players like Darryl Morsell have not. He also leads the team with 7.3 rebounds per game - Morsell is second on the team at 5.0.
Scott is also the team's best frontcourt passer, coming in fourth on the team in assists behind the backcourt trio of Wiggins, Morsell and Eric Ayala. And he hasn't only provided reliable play and leadership this season, but also the occasional jaw-dropping highlight, including a vicious dunk that topped SportsCenter's Top 10 plays of the night earlier in the week.
While his ability to fill up the box score in a number of ways is impressive, Scott's greatest ability this season has been his shooting. The sophomore is hitting 53.8% of his three-pointers this season, by far the most on the Terps.
Scott also provides a level of energy and physicality when on the court that most of his teammates can't match. Not that the others aren't tough too, but Scott perfectly embodies the stereotype of an underdog from Philadelphia. He was barely ranked in the top 150 of most recruiting services prior to enrolling at Maryland, but with more than half of his college career still ahead of him, he already looks like a future All-Big Ten player.
Even if league-wide accolades don't come in 2021, Scott has already cemented himself as Maryland's best player, a surprising outcome for those who expected the veteran backcourt to carry the roster.
Maryland has three losses, all coming in the team's toughest matchups so far (Clemson, Rutgers and Purdue). All three games have followed a similar pattern: Maryland goes down big early thanks to essentially non-existent offense, and then Donta Scott puts the team on his back to try to claw their way into a respectable final.
It's no coincidence that Scott has been unleashed in the team's biggest spots, especially since he's proven he can excel in tough circumstances. In those three games, Scott has shot a combined 8-14 on three pointers, averaging 15.3 points per game and over seven rebounds. And he's averaged 13.0 points in those three second halves alone.
Maryland may have lost each of those three, but they're going to need Scott to continue to play well as their competition gets stiffer. The Terps' next five games are at Wisconsin, vs. Michigan, at Indiana, vs. Illinois and at Iowa. Four of those five teams are ranked (two in the top 10) and the other one is receiving votes. It's a murderer's row, but one that will be emblematic of life in the best, deepest conference in the country.
It's technically still early in the season, but Maryland's season is close to the brink. One season after winning the Big Ten and setting their sights on a potential Final Four run that would never happen, the Terps are learning what life is like without their two superstars from last season (Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith). It's no surprise that losing borderline All-Americans has hurt the team, but they currently look like a team full of secondary pieces without a star to complement.
If Scott keeps playing the way he has, however, then the Terps may have another superstar on their hands to help lead the way when next year's vaunted recruiting class arrives in College Park. At the very least, they have to hope they do. If not, a long season is going to get even longer.