COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Jalen Smith had 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds as No. 3 Maryland cruised to a 72-51 victory over Notre Dame on Wednesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Eric Ayala scored 14 points and Aaron Wiggins added 11 for the Terrapins (9-0), who are off to their best start since winning 10 in a row to open the 1998-99 season.
John Mooney had 17 points and 12 rebounds for Notre Dame (6-2), which had won six in a row since opening the season with a loss at North Carolina.
It took some time for the Terps’ offense to get going, but their defense was sharp for nearly the entire first half. After falling behind 9-4, Maryland allowed just four points over the next 12:31.
Ayala scored seven points in a row to turn a one-point game into a 21-13 lead, and later delivered a tomahawk slam a minute before the break. Aaron Wiggins capped the half by getting the carom from his missed 3-pointer and slamming it home for a 32-20 lead.
Notre Dame never cut the deficit to less than 10 in the second half as Maryland snapped a six-game skid in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a streak that began when the Terps were still in the ACC.
Smith recorded his fifth double-double of the season, matching his total from all of last season.
Notre Dame: The Irish missed out on the first of their three chances for a noteworthy nonconference victory this month. Notre Dame will get chances at home against UCLA (Dec. 14) and in Indianapolis against Indiana (Dec. 21) for a brand-name triumph outside the ACC.
Maryland: The evidence continues to build that the Terps are an elite defensive team. Three days after holding Marquette star Markus Howard to just six points, Maryland smothered the Fighting Irish, limiting them to 29.0 percent from the floor.
Maryland, which rose to No. 3 in this week’s poll after winning the Orlando Invitational, did nothing to dent its lofty ranking in the first of two games this week.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Chasing a bunch of quick, athletic players around the basketball court can be pretty tiring for a team with a half-dozen guys 6-foot-7 or taller.
Fortunately for Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, if one of his players gets weary, there’s always someone to replace him.
Taking advantage of a roster deep with height and talent, No. 7 Maryland launched a season of high hopes by defeating Holy Cross 95-71 Tuesday night.
Despite trailing early, the Terrapins forged ahead by 12 at halftime and won their 43rd consecutive home opener.
“It’s hard when we’re this big and tall to chase guys around, five guys that can shoot it,” Turgeon said. “Our depth finally got them.”
Maryland placed four players in double figures, finished with a 47-33 rebounding advantage and scored 64 points in the paint.
Jalen Smith had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Darryl Morsell scored 15, and Anthony Cowan Jr. and Eric Ayala added 12 points apiece.
The Terrapins returned seven players from a squad that went to the Sweet 16 last season and have added a pair of 6-foot-10 twins to the mix. Turgeon took full advantage, giving eight players at least 14 minutes of playing time.
“It’s nice, especially when the depth plays well,” Turgeon said. “And I think it’s just going to get better when the new guys get used to playing and get used to the speed of the college game.”
This team has a chance to be Turgeon’s best during his nine-year tenure at Maryland, but the Terps will have to prove it on the court.
Perhaps the clearest glimpse of this squad’s potential came in the final seconds of the first half. After Smith blocked a layup attempt, Cowan got hold of the loose ball and raced up court. He drove the lane and flipped the ball to Morsell, who capped the sequence with a powerful dunk.
“We played well,” said Cowan, a senior guard. “There were definitely some times where we weren’t getting enough stops or we weren’t doing the little things. But overall, I’m happy how we came out.”
Freshman guard Drew Lowder scored 24 for Holy Cross, playing its first game under coach Brett Nelson. The Crusaders took only five foul shots compared to 24 for Maryland.
“We had some moments where we were really good,” Nelson said. “I have a young group, so we’re learning. We’re going to be a lot different in January than we are in November.
“But I’ve got to give Maryland credit. They’ve got a heck of a ballclub. With the pieces they have, they’ve got a good chance to make a deep run in the tournament, for sure.”
Holy Cross trailed by just seven before Maryland went on a 16-4 run that made it 68-49. Smith and Ayala each had six points in the surge, and Cowan contributed a pair of free throws and a breakaway layup.
“This year could be a lot of fun if we just stay focused, stay selfless, keep getting better,” Turgeon said. “We’ve got a lot of talent.”
Maryland is 6-0 against Holy Cross in a series that began in 1971. The teams last met in 2008.
Perhaps one day, Nelson will be able to go nine deep on his roster. Until then, he’ll be stuck admiring teams like Maryland.
“They’re long, they’re athletic. They bring guys off the bench that are just as athletic,” Nelson said. “So from a rebounding standpoint, they really got us. And then the turnovers there in the first half led to runouts for them.”
Holy Cross: The Crusaders look as though they will benefit from working under Nelson, who spent the previous five years on the staff at Marquette. Holy Cross ran its offense well and hustled back on defense, qualities that should be helpful when conference play begins in the Patriot League.
Maryland: The Terrapins got off to a solid start by using their height, but the outside game needs work. Maryland was 5 for 27 from beyond the arc, missing 11 of 13 in the first half.
As the NBA game gets smaller and quicker and more spread out, the college game can still be beaten with big guys.
Just two years ago, in between Villanova’s two national titles, was a championship game played between a Gonzaga team built around their big guys and a North Carolina team built around their big guys.
Hell, I think you can make the argument that Kansas center Udoka Azubuike is one of the five most valuable players in college basketball, even if his potential as a pro is limited.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the best frontcourts in college hoops.
1. KANSAS (Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot, Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna)
The Jayhawks have perhaps the best traditional big men in college hoops in Udoka Azubuike, who shot 77 percent from the floor in his last (and only) healthy season, but it’s unclear just exactly how this frontcourt will work as a whole. Silvio De Sousa is probably the most talented of this group with David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot the most experienced. None of those three, though, have shown the ability to step out on the perimeter to help create the space that will be critical for Azubuike to operate. Lightfoot is actually largely expected to redshirt. That leaves freshmen Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna, a couple of four-star recruits.
What Bill Self does with this situation could very well determine Kansas’ ceiling. Frankly, it won’t be at all surprising if we see Self try doses of Marcus Garrett, Isaiah Moss and Ochai Agbaji at the four to alleviate the spacing concerns.
2. DUKE (Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White)
Coach K’s use of his frontcourt last year was one of the more scrutinized tactical decisions, with Zion Williamson, a singular force in the sport, splitting his time between power forward and center, when more time at the five probably would have unlocked a little more firepower for the Blue Devils. That won’t be the case this year with Duke’s roster flipping over, but how its frontcourt performs will go a long way in determining if it can get where last year’s team didn’t – the Final Four.
Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt are both five-star recruits and potential one-and-done lottery picks as top-15 prospects. The pair should, well, pair well with Carey at the five and Hurt stretching the floor at the four. Javin DeLaurier got a lot of run for the Blue Devils last year, and will help provide experience and depth up front.
Just how good Penny Hardaway’s frontcourt is will go a long way in determining if the Tigers are as good as their recruiting class.
It starts with James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 top-rated freshman and potential top-NBA draft pick come June. If he’s All-American good, then that sets Memphis up for success more than anything else. There’s that pesky ankle injury that’s kept him sidelined in the preseason, which is concerning but not cause for a full panic now.
It’s not the only thing, though. Precious Achiuwa was the other five-star Hardaway collected in his No. 1 recruiting class, which also included Isaiah Maurice, D.J. Jeffries and Malcolm Dandridge.
4. GONZAGA (Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Drew Timme, Pavel Zakharov)
Killian Tillie is one of the more intriguing forwards in the country. People have been raving about his talent for years, but he’s been stuck behind great college players and future pros while also dealing with injuries. He even had knee surgery this offseason that has his immediate availability currently in question. If he’s healthy, the deck has been cleared in Spokane for him to be featured.
Six-foot-11 Filip Petrusev played in 32 games last year for the ‘Zags but wasn’t a huge piece of the rotation. He did have a big summer playing for Serbia at the FIBA U19s, putting up nearly 20 points a game and shooting 66 percent from the floor. He and Tillie could make for a dynamic duo.
Coach Mark Few also has some highly-rated freshmen he can mix in with Drew Timme and Pavel Zakharov, but they did get dinged when Oumar Ballo was forced to redshirt..
5. WASHINGTON (Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Stewart, Naz Carter, Hamier Wright, Sam Timmins)
Memphis’ recruiting deservedly got a lot of love this summer, but Mike Hopkins got the job done, too. Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels are both top-10 recruits that will immediately make the Huskies’ frontcourt formidable. Both are 6-foot-9, but Stewart weighs in at 245 pounds and McDaniels 185. Nahziah Carter averaged 8.1 points and 2.4 rebounds while Hameir right played nearly 18 minutes per game. Sam Timmins played sparingly, but shot 62 percent.
6. LOUISVILLE (Jordan Nwora, Steve Enoch, Malik Wiliams, Aidan Igiehon, Jaelyn Withers)
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Nwora blossomed into an All-American candidate last year, averaging 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 37.4 percent from the floor. He’s an ACC player of the year frontrunner, and the cornerstone to both the Cardinals’ frontcourt and their Final Four aspirations.
Steve Enoch was effective both inside and out last season while Malik Williams is a top-level shotblocker. Aidan Igiehon is a four-star, top-75 recruit while Jaelyn Withers is a top-150 prospect from 2019.
7. MISSISSIPPI STATE (Reggie Perry, Abdul Ado, Elias King, Robert Woodard II, Prince Oduro, KeyShawn Feazell, E.J. Datcher, Quinten Post)
Reggie Perry is a first-team all-SEC pick after he averaged 9.7 points and 7.2 rebounds last season while Abdul Ado is back after shooting 61.4 percent from the floor and blocking 1.8 shots per game last season. Robert Woodard played 17 minutes per game last year while Prince Oduro is eligible after a promising freshman season for Siena.
Bruno Fernando is gone, but Jalen Smith was nearly as productive as him last season as a freshman. The 6-foot-10 Smith blocked 12.5 percent of opponent shots while on the floor while shooting 56.2 percent from 2-point range. He shot just 26.8 percent from distance, but hoisted 71 attempts, at least an indication he could potentially be a floor-spacer. The Terps are also adding twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, the former a top-75 recruit and the later a three-star prospect. Chol Marial is a 7-foot-2 freshman that could contribute if he gets healthy.
9. BAYLOR (Tristan Clark, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillispie, Flo Thamba)
Tristan Clark was on his way to first-team all-Big 12 honors last year before his knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season in January. He’s back this year, and he’ll anchor one of the best frontcourts in the country. Mark Vital, Freddie Gillispie and Flo Thamba all were contributors last season, and should be more effective with Clark by their side this season.
10. MICHIGAN STATE (Xavier Tillman, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier, Malik Hall, Joey Hauser*)
Nick Ward and Kenny Goins are gone, but Xavier Tillman returns after a productive sophomore campaign that has him blossom on both ends of the floor, albeit not his 3-point shooting. Marcus Bingham and Thomas Kithier will be in line for more minutes after being seldomly used as freshmen while Malik Hall is a top-75 recruit.
The wildcard here is Joey Hauser. The Marquette transfer has already seen his request for an immediate-eligibility waiver denied by the NCAA, but Michigan State has appealed. If the NCAA reverses course, the Spartans’ frontcourt will suddenly look much more formidable.
The Florida frontcourt got a massive boost when the 6-foot-10 Kerry Blackshear decided to grad-transfer over this past offseason. Blackshear averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Hokies last season while also shooting 50.8 percent from the field. He’ll join Keyontae Johnson, who put up 8 and 6 last year, and Gorjok Gak, a 6-foot-11 center who missed last season with injury.
12. VIRGINIA (Jay Huff, Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key)
The national champs lost a lot from last year’s team, but their frontcourt remains somewhat intact, although De’Andre Hunter is a major loss, no doubt. Getting Mamdi Diakite, Braxton Key and Jay Huff all to return is a help, though.
Diakite averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 22 minutes per game while blocking more than 10 percent of opponent shots while he was on the floor. Braxton Key and Jay Huff were smaller contributors last year, but still important ones. They’ll help Tony Bennett bridge the gap to the post-title era.
Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson are both gone, but Garrison Brooks is back from his junior season and five-star center Armando Bacot comes into the fold. So, too, is William & Mary graduate transfer Justin Pierce, a third-team all-CAA honoree who averaged 14.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last season as a junior.
14. UTAH STATE (Neemias Queta, Justin Bean, Diogo Brito, Kuba Karwowski, Roche Grootfaam)
Neemias Queta, a 7-foot sophomore, averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in his rookie campaign while shooting 61.4 percent, putting him among the country’s most productive centers. Justin Bean saw more time late in the season and was productive against MWC competition. Diogo Brito is a floor-spacer when he’s at the four. Kuba Karnowski and Roche Grootfaam are a pair of junior college transfers that could contribute.
Matt Painter and the Boilermakers have made a habit of having one of the nation’s best frontcourts, and that won’t be any different this year. Matt Haarms will anchor the group after the 7-foot-3 center averaged 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 63.2 percent from the floor. Two freshmen that saw time last year – 6-foot-9 forwards Aaron Wheeler and Trevion Williams – will step into bigger roles up front, too.
Tremont Waters’ late layup pushes LSU past Maryland and into the Sweet 16
Whatever issues embroiling LSU off the court, they’re not slowing the Tigers down on it.
No. 3 seed LSU overcame its own blown 15-point lead to ultimately outlast Maryland on Saturday with a 69-67 victory in the second round of the NCAA tournament to secure the Tigers’ first Sweet 16 since their 2006 Final Four run.
Skylar Mays hit two free throws to tie the game at 64 with 1 minute, 13 seconds left. The Tigers then got a stop, and Mays delivered a go-ahead 3-pointer from the win with 32.5 seconds left on the clock. The Terps, however, weren’t done as they matched Mays’ 3 with one by Jalen Smith on the ensuing possession.
Tremont Waters then came to the rescue for LSU.
The Tiger guard dribbled the clock down under 10 seconds, then attacked the rim, getting into the paint and delivering a scooping game-winning layup with under 2 seconds to play.
Mays scored 16 to lead the Tigers while Waters had 12 and Naz Reid 13 as LSU overcame shooting 28.9 percent in the second half when Maryland switched largely to zone to advance to Washington, D.C. next week.
It’s been quite the stretch for LSU under interim coach Tony Benford. After going one-and-done at the SEC tournament as the controversy surrounding coach Will Wade’s alleged wiretapped call to Christian Dawkins in which Wade reportedly said he made a “strong-ass offer” to land a recruit, LSU suddenly has its best postseason in more than a decade. How about that?
Of course, the Tigers’ success may eventually be wiped from the record book if the NCAA finds extensive wrongdoing or if the recruit in question, Javonte Smart, is retroactively declared ineligible as he’s playing for LSU despite the cloud that’s been created by what Wade allegedly said on a wiretap that was caught by an investigation that continues to sprawl and impact the sport. Even if it yet hasn’t been to the degree once thought to be imminent when the Southern District of New York announced those first batch of charges more than a year ago.
Regardless of what ultimately happens, though, this group of Tigers is going to play in the Sweet 16, even if it’s eventually stricken from the record books. There’s no Men In Black memory wipe. LSU and its fans will know they won these games, and they’ll probably give themselves extra credit for overcoming the adversity of perhaps getting caught cheating.
It’s hard to argue against LSU leaning into this. They could be looking at potential punishments to the program, and it seems likely they’ll be moving on from Wade after just two seasons. Given it’s been 13 years since they made a second weekend – much less a return to the Final Four – it’s probably best to just enjoy this run, however it may eventually be recorded. Hiring a new coach with a cloud of NCAA uncertainty over the program doesn’t usually foretell a return to prominence, ya know?
So with Minnesota or Michigan State awaiting them in D.C. next week and then potentially Duke, don’t fault LSU for getting its money’s worth out of this run. Maybe that wasn’t the best metaphor there, but you get it.
For Maryland, it’s the third first-weekend departure in four tournaments under Mark Turgeon. The Terps look to be a team that should be back again next year, even if sophomore big man Bruno Fernando opts to go pro. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound center is a projected first-round draft pick, and would be a significant loss for Turgeon, but that could be the only major departure from this year’s team that went 23-11 and finished fifth in the Big Ten.
Maryland and Belmont engaged in a back-and-forth first-round matchup in Jacksonville on Thursday as the No. 4 seed Terrapins advanced in the East Region of the NCAA tournament with a 79-77 victory.
Belmont had a chance to go ahead trailing 78-77 on what could have been the game’s final possession but an errant backdoor pass from Grayson Murphy became a turnover as Maryland’s Eric Ayala tipped to ball as the Terps recovered the ball. Darryl Morsell (18 points) made one of two free throws for Maryland and Belmont had a final game-winning attempt from Dylan Windler — but his desperation half-court heave fell short.
Trailing by six at the half, the Terps (23-10) came roaring back in the second half behind a balanced effort. Despite an off-day from starting point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. (nine points on 3-for-18 shooting), Maryland got strong efforts from four other players. The frontcourt of Jalen Smith (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Bruno Fernando (14 points, 13 rebounds) both tallied double-doubles and Smith’s emphatic and-one dunk with under two minutes left gave Maryland a two-possession lead. Eric Ayala (12 points) also finished in double-figures for the Terps.
Belmont (27-6) had a monster outing from senior Dylan Windler as he finished with a game-high 35 points — including a very good 7-for-14 day from three-point territory. After advancing past Temple in the First Four in Dayton on Tuesday night, the Bruins looked like they could pull off the potential upset until the game’s final possessions. Guard Kevin McClain also had a solid day with 19 points. But nobody else on the Belmont roster could muster more than six points in the game.
Maryland is heading to the second round as they play No. 3 seed LSU on Saturday in Jacksonville. That matchup will feature a great frontcourt battle between Smith and Fernando going against LSU’s Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams. The matchup at point guard could be the difference, however, as Cowan will need to play better going against a strong lead guard in the Tigers’ Tremont Waters.
The Terps have to be pleased that they escaped with this win as they struggled from three-point range (6-for-22 for 27 percent) while Cowan had a horrible shooting day. If Cowan can return to his normal form, then Saturday’s second-round matchup should be pretty evenly matched.
Nebraska surprises No. 21 Maryland 69-61 in Big Ten tourney
CHICAGO — James Palmer scored 24 points and Nebraska shut down No. 21 Maryland for the first big surprise of the Big Ten Tournament, holding off the Terrapins for a 69-61 victory on Thursday.
Using a seven-man rotation because of injuries and backup guard Nana Akenten’s suspension, the Cornhuskers harassed the Terrapins into 36 percent (18 for 50) shooting and 11 turnovers. Glynn Watson Jr. added 19 points and Isaiah Roby finished with 15.
Nebraska (17-15) earned a second win in the Big Ten tourney for the first time since 2016 and will face fourth-seeded Wisconsin on Friday afternoon. The Cornhuskers advanced with a 68-61 victory against Rutgers on Wednesday night.
Maryland (22-10) swept Nebraska during the regular season, including a 60-45 win in Lincoln on Feb. 6. But the Terrapins struggled offensively in their third loss in their last four games.
Bruno Fernando, who entered with averages of 14 points and 10.5 rebounds, was held to three points and eight boards. Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 17 of his 18 points in the second half, and Darryl Morsell finished with 14.
The Terrapins trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, but they closed to 35-30 on Morsell’s jam with 14:49 left. The Cornhuskers responded with a 9-0 run, capped by Watson’s 3-pointer with 11:59 to go.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon was whistled for a technical foul with 8:25 left after no foul was called as Morsell drove up the court on a fast break. Watson then made two foul shots and Roby converted a three-point play, extending Nebraska’s lead to 51-37 with 8:12 left.
Nebraska: A third game in three days is one tough order for the Cornhuskers, but they have won three in a row since a four-game losing streak.
Maryland: The Terrapins showed some fight in the second half, but they had to chase the Cornhuskers after a shaky start. They had just 20 points in the first half on 29 percent shooting.
Nebraska lost 62-51 to Wisconsin on Jan. 29 in their only meeting this season.
Maryland waits to see where it’s going in the NCAA Tournament.