Advertisement

Jahmir Young carried Maryland men’s basketball vs. No. 1 Purdue, but he’ll need help — soon | TAKEAWAYS

Odds were not favorable that the Maryland men’s basketball team would be able to pull off a second upset of No. 1 Purdue in as many seasons. And the absence of a full Xfinity Center in College Park didn’t help.

Tuesday night’s 67-53 loss drew an announced 14,314, which isn’t terrible considering students aren’t on campus during the winter break. But it was less than the 15,290 fans who watched the Terps’ 81-75 overtime win against Penn State on Dec. 6 and only 270 more than the 14,044 who attended the season-opening 68-53 victory over Mount St. Mary’s on Nov. 7.

Neither of those opponents are the Boilermakers (13-1, 2-1 Big Ten), the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll for the past three weeks. Neither of those opponents are the reigning Big Ten regular-season champion. Neither of those opponents knocked off then-No. 1 Arizona, 92-84, on Dec. 16 — or then-No. 11 Gonzaga, No. 7 Tennessee and No. 4 Marquette in three consecutive games over as many days.

As much as Maryland (9-5, 1-2) has labored thus far, Tuesday night’s game deserved a crowd worthy of the top-ranked team in the nation. A sold-out 17,950 watched last year’s team upset then-No. 3 Purdue, 68-54, on Feb. 16. There’s no guarantee a similar crowd could have willed the Terps to another stunner, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.

While vowing to “be a different team in February,” Maryland coach Kevin Willard took note of the less-than-full-capacity attendance Tuesday night.

“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s tough to play these games when your students aren’t here, to be honest with you. They make a huge difference. But I do think these kinds of games are good for us in the fact that some of these guys kind of can see where we’re at. That’s kind of what the Michigan game did to us last year. It kind of gave us a real chance to say, ‘OK, we won eight in a row, and things were going well,’ but now all of a sudden, you go up against a team like this that’s playing really well and is by far the best team in the country. It’s not even close. If you look at their schedule and who they’ve played and where they’ve played, it’s the best team in the country. For them to come in here and do this to us on our home court, that should be a little bit of an eye-opener for everybody.”

Here are three more observations from Tuesday night’s setback.

Jahmir Young needs help — quickly

The fifth-year senior point guard’s game-high 26 points on 12 of 23 shooting is somewhat shocking considering Tuesday night was his first game since the flu sidelined him for five days and prevented him from playing in Thursday night’s 75-53 rout of Coppin State.

“I’m feeling much better than I did before,” he said. “It was just my wind a little bit. Just a little fatigued a little earlier than usual, but other than that, I’m feeling much better.”

But Young was the only Maryland player to cross the 10-point threshold. Outside of him, the offense connected on only 22.5% of its shots (9 of 40) with no individual converting better than 35%.

The most obvious source of assistance would be junior power forward Julian Reese, who entered the game as the team’s second-leading scorer (14.3 points per game) and top rebounder (9.7 per game). The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Randallstown native and St. Frances graduate spent a lot of energy guarding Purdue’s 7-4, 300-pound senior center Zach Edey, who racked up 23 points, 12 rebounds and two assists, but was held scoreless for the first time since March 10, 2022.

Willard acknowledged he and the players must find ways to free up Reese on the interior.

“I think we’ve got to do a better job of trying to help him get some easy buckets to kind of loosen him up,” he said. “But they did a really good job. They knew we were going to try to go to him, and they loaded up the paint, and they made it really hard for him to get deep post touches. But Julian’s got to realize that he’s No. 1 on the scouting report, and he’s got to bring it a little bit more than he has the last couple games.”

Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said his team’s defensive strategy involved clogging the lane to limit Young and Reese and force their teammates to take shots from the perimeter. While Young erupted, Reese did not, which was fine with Painter.

“I thought we did a good job of just understanding the personnel, who we could help from and who we couldn’t help from,” he said. “I think a little bit of Julian Reese only having four attempts is us helping out a lot and just trying to stay there on certain guys and try to bottle things up. Young is so crafty that he’s going to get his.”

Outside shooting woes continue to hobble the offense

After a few moderate gains in the 3-point shooting department during its five-game winning streak, Maryland has regressed in its past two games, especially against Purdue.

The offense made only 22.7% of its 3-point attempts (5 of 22) for the game and was particularly off-target in the first half when it shot just 12.5% (1 of 8). Willard replied sarcastically when asked if there was anything he could do to help the team improve its long-distance accuracy.

“We missed seven wide-open 3s in the first half,” he said. “So I don’t know how much more we can do when you get a wide-open shot. I’ll try to put a new play in to get a wide-wide-wide-open shot. Maybe that will help.”

For the season, Young is the only player who has connected on better than 35% of his 3-point shots (35.1% on 27 of 77 shooting), and he and fifth-year senior small forward Donta Scott are the only players with at least 20 3-pointers each.

Fortunately for the Terps — or perhaps unfortunately, depending on one’s point of view — Willard doesn’t seem to be the type to admonish his players and rein in their attempts from the deeper parts of the floor. In fact, after games this season, he has expressed his belief that the players will regain their shooting strokes and live up to his expectations.

Scott echoed his coach’s faith.

“Just take our time,” he said of how to improve the team’s 3-point efficiency. “Coach always tells us to step into our 3s. We take probably as many shots as any other team in the country. We’ve just got to step to the line and have more confidence. We’re getting a lot of open looks, and I feel like a lot of them are strong misses.”

If Purdue is the toughest opponent Maryland will face in the Big Ten, maybe that’s an encouraging sign

The Terps have games at Minnesota (10-3, 1-1) on Sunday and against Michigan (6-7, 1-1) at home on Jan. 11 before they meet No. 9 Illinois (11-2, 2-0). Not that those opponents aren’t worthy of respect, but neither of them are the Boilermakers — for now.

Edey is playing like the reigning National Player of the Year that he is, and the sophomore backcourt duo of point guard Braden Smith and shooting guard Fletcher Loyer are more experienced and versatile than they were last season. And the transfer of fifth-year senior shooting guard Lance Jones from Southern Illinois adds another perimeter threat and an athletic defender.

Edey, who has averaged 23.1 points and 10.3 rebounds thus far, sounded a bit miffed that Purdue has been overlooked — a reputation that wasn’t helped by a shocking 63-58 loss as a No. 1 seed to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t think people kind of gave us the respect we deserved last year,” he said. “The way the season ended, I think a lot of people counted us out. We were the No. 1 seed, we were the best team in the country for a bunch of weeks, and we returned everybody. That’s usually a recipe for pretty good success.”

Willard pointed out that the Boilermakers are so deep that their backups off the bench are as good or perhaps even better than some of the starters. As of now, that’s probably of very little consolation to Maryland, which must take advantage of the next few days to find a winning formula against the Golden Gophers on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.

“We have to be physical,” Young said. “As we all know, the Big Ten’s a physical league. There’s no game that’s going to be a drop-off. So we’ve got to be ready to play from the jump — home and away — in order to turn it around. We’ve got to take it one game at a time, make sure we stick together, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Maryland at Minnesota

Sunday, 5:30 p.m.

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 105.7 FM