COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The Maryland men’s basketball team is proving true the old saw that it is more important how one finishes than one starts, but the Terrapins’ start to their game on Sunday keyed another victory in their impressive finish to the season, continuing to build momentum toward an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Guard Eric Ayala led four Maryland scorers in double figures with 22 points as the Terrapins scored the first 11 points of the game and was not seriously threatened during their 73-55 win over the Michigan State Spartans at the XFINITY Center, the team’s fifth straight win to close out the month of February. The win evened the Terrapins’ record in Big Ten play at 9-9, a record made remarkable given that the Terrapins started conference play in the country’s best league at 1-5 and entered February at 3-7 in league play.
Darryl Morsell’s three-pointer off an offensive rebound opened the game’s scoring and turned out to give Maryland the lead for good. After two Morsell free throws, Hakim Hart and Aaron Wiggins each hit a three to open up an 11-0 lead and force the Spartans into an early timeout.
As impressive as the start was on offense for Maryland, the deciding factor in the contest was the Terrapins’ swarming interior defense, as it routinely double-teamed Spartans players when they touched the ball inside, daring Michigan State to win by shooting from the perimeter. The Terrapins held Sparty to just 33 percent shooting from the field (19-for-57), including forcing Michigan State to miss 20 of its 28 three-point attempts.
Though taking 14 fewer shots than the Spartans from the field, Maryland was able to make two more field goals than its opponent (21) while nailing the same number of threes (8) in just 16 three-point attempts. After the Spartans’ Malik Hall hit a free throw to cut Maryland’s lead to 49-44 at the 10-minute mark of the second half, Maryland’s Hakim Hart, who scored 10, hit two huge three-pointers to stem the Spartans’ run, including one on the next possession after Hall’s free throw for an eight-point lead. His second three-pointer, with 5:16 remaining, gave Maryland a 58-46 lead as the Terrapins’ margin remained in double digits for the remainder of the game.
The Terrapins iced the game from the free throw line, going a sparkling 23-of-24 (96 percent) for the contest. Andrew Wiggins, who scored 13 points, punctuated the victory with a 360-degree dunk on a breakaway in the final minute.
Morsell scored 11 but made much more of an impact on the defensive end, forcing Michigan State’s leading scorer Aaron Henry to just 4-of-16 from the field. Henry finished the game with 11 points, while Joshua Langford led all Spartans scorers with 12, though he made only three of his 13 attempts from the field. The loss snapped Michigan State’s three-game winning streak which saw it win back-to-back home games earlier this week against No. 5 Illinois and No. 4 Ohio State, as well as a win in Bloomington against Indiana last Saturday.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Sunday afternoon’s game, with all the photos produced by DC-area photographer Yusuf Abdullah. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 25 pictures in total.