Maryland’s stunning upset of No. 3 Purdue, which has lost three of its last four games, left the Boilermakers searching for answers.
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“We are gonna bring the swag back to Maryland Basketball.”
Those were the words of Kevin Willard inside the Xfinity Center when he was introduced as the head coach of the Terrapins last March.
Willard followed by saying it wasn’t going to happen overnight.
But less than 11 months later, the 18,000 and change on hand in College Park on Thursday night let out a collective roar after a 68-54 victory over No. 3 Purdue. It carried this emotion: the Terps are ahead of schedule.
Terps announce their presence in the Big Ten
Trailing 37-29 less than four minutes into the second half, Willard called a timeout. Just when it looked like the Boilers were back on track, the Terrapins put a halt to it. A Jahmir Young pull-up jumper pulled the Terps within six to bring the sellout crowd to life. A possession later, Purdue captain Mason Gillis was called for a technical foul. It unhinged the building and unleashed Maryland — to the tune of a 29-4 run and ultimately, victory.
With the win, the Terps announced their presence in the top four of the Big Ten race, turning the tables on Purdue. It marks the eighth win in 11 games for Maryland, which improved to 9-6 in the Big Ten.
Fans rush court as Maryland takes down Purdue
The Maryland Terrapins upset the No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers 68-54 on Thursday night.
Young went off for 20 points, while Julian Reese delivered strong defense on Zach Edey, going for 10 points and eight boards in the process. Edey? He scored 18 points, but it took him 15 shots to get there because Reese made life difficult for him all night.
The bigger picture storyline right off this one? Maryland is 14-1 inside Xfinity Center this season. It’s a difficult place to play in college basketball, and on Thursday night, the opportunity Willard took in March felt like what he said it was again: a top-10 job in college basketball.
Jahmir Young leads Maryland with 20 points
Jahmir Young scored 20 points to help Maryland bet a top-3 team for the first time since 2016.
What’s wrong with Purdue?
After a 22-1 start to the season, the Boilermakers have dropped three of their last four. Part of the recent spell is what Matt Painter defines as the challenge of going on the road in the Big Ten as the hunted, something Purdue has been the last two seasons.
“Right now, it stinks for me,” Painter said about life in the conference. “It’s just really hard to go on the road in this league. In the last two years, we’ve been on the wrong side of eight court stormings. We have to be tougher.”
So, what’s really wrong with this team right now?
In the three games previous to Thursday night, the Boilers committed 49 turnovers, but they only committed seven against Maryland. That wasn’t the difference in this loss. Rather, it’s pretty clear in Painter’s mind that Edey needs some help. In the last two games, Purdue has shot 7-for-35 (20%) from 3-point range.
“We have to have a balance of driving, making 3s and posting Zach (Edey),” Painter said. “When we don’t have that balance, the defense is going to shrink the court on us.”
Part of the magic of Purdue’s season has been that freshman guards have charged the backcourt, but right now, the Boilermakers are seeing the other side of that. Fletcher Loyer is 3-for-15 from the floor in the last two games. While Braden Smith was great in the opening 22 minutes Thursday, starting 7-for-7 from the floor, he finished 1-for-his-last-5. Nobody outside Edey and Smith had more than two made field goals.
Jahmir Young: ‘Everybody didn’t believe in us’
Maryland’s Jahmir Young speaks with Andy Katz after the Terrapins’ upset of Purdue.
“We were going to live with Braden Smith taking shots,” Willard said following the win. “That kid is tough as nails. He and Loyer should be No. 1 and No. 2 on the Big Ten freshman team. For us, it was about keeping them from 3-pointers. Edey’s going to get his. He’s probably the best player in the country. But you can’t give them 3s, or else you’re cooked.”
Purdue is just the fifth team in the last 20 seasons to lose back-to-back games vs. unranked opponents while ranked in the top three. Three of the previous four failed to make it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The others:
2017-18 Arizona (lost in first round)2013-14 Wisconsin (lost in Final Four)2004-05 Kansas (lost in first round)2003-04 Florida (lost in first round)
Yet Painter was confidently loose in his postgame press conference, representative of a guy who’s previously experienced this type of cold spell over the course of his 18 years. Then again, his team is still 23-4 on the season.
“I told our guys in the locker room, ‘You’ve got to believe in yourself and believe in things going our way,” Painter added. “I said that the good ones don’t ever stop believing in what they can do, and that they definitely don’t stop believing during tough times. I believe we’ve got good ones in that locker room who will respond.”
We will have to wait and see on that, but for Purdue, it’s not really about the fact that they’ve lost three of four. It’s about the timing of this skid, with just two weeks left in the regular season. This team has been too dominant to fall off dramatically, but adjustments are needed, and time is of the essence for this team to regain momentum behind the national player of the year front-runner.
Is Zach Edey wearing down?
Edey’s performance is the final takeaway regarding Purdue. He had 18 points and eight rebounds but took 16 shots to get there. Reese’s defense made life hard for the 7-foot-4 center, but he did look worn down at times on Thursday. The dog days of the Big Ten have hit hard, and as great as Edey is, a big man can run out of gas late in a season especially when he’s not receiving assistance. Purdue has to give him more help — when Smith went cold in the second half, nobody was able to provide it.
The good news for the Boilermakers? A get-right game comes Sunday afternoon at Mackey Arena against an Ohio State team that is second-to-last in the Big Ten standings. The timing couldn’t be better for Painter’s team to figure things out, and get a win.
What does the win mean for Maryland?
The vibe in the building before the game was euphoric.
“It feels like old times in here tonight,” one fan said.
For a program that went 15-17 a year ago, and for the returning players and fan base that saw the midseason end of the Mark Turgeon era, Thursday night was a reward for sticking through the humiliation of last season. It also served as the signature moment of Kevin Willard’s first season thus far and sent a message to the country that Maryland is back on the map.
“The crowd was ready to erupt. This is awesome for the students and the fan base,” Willard said. “I think it’s really important for our community. You think about COVID and the last couple of years here, what everybody’s been through, to beat Purdue, who’s one of the best teams in America, it was great.”
Erupt? They sure did, with one Terrapin student even soaking up the moment from above the rim.
How did the Terrapins produce a 29-4 run that changed the entire game?
“We got Edey out of pick-and-rolls defensively,” Willard said. “He was playing pick-and-rolls so well, so we tried to stick him out to the baseline a little bit. I thought Hakim Hart and Jahmir Young did a great job getting in the middle of the lane and attacking.”
Young, a Charlotte transfer who is ninth in the Big Ten in scoring at 16.3 points per game, had one goal in mind when he transferred to Maryland.
“He told me he wasn’t going to let his college career end unless he went to the NCAA Tournament,” Willard said. “I told him that’s what our plans are, and he’s been at the forefront of them. When you start a program, you want to find guys that are going to set a great foundation. He’s a hometown kid, a Dematha kid from Maryland. He was exactly what we were looking for.”
“There’s an expectation set here,” Young added in the postgame press conference. “That’s something we took ownership of in the summer. It started with hard work then, and we’re determined to get this thing right.”
Willard could not overstate the play of Reese, who is one of the most improved players in the Big Ten and looks like he could be an NBA prospect down the road.
“I would take Juju over any center in the Big Ten,” Willard said. “He just keeps getting better. He’s got a great attitude. Every time he’s played a guy a second time, he’s really done a great job of shutting him down. He’s been a monster and a warrior.”
In the big picture for Maryland, Willard has the Terrapins at 18-8 overall and 9-6 in the Big Ten, well ahead of what anyone thought this team’s ceiling would be this season. They’re well on their way to the NCAA Tournament, currently as an 8-seed in Mike DeCourcy’s bracket forecast. That may change for the better on Friday.
The reality is that ultimately, the Terps will be judged by what they do in March because that’s what the expectations are around College Park. That’s not the case this season or next. This is the early stages of Willard’s build, and this year, he’s playing with house money in his first season.
But what Gary Williams made a reality with Final Four appearances in 2001 and 2002 — and a national championship in 2002 — is what has made the expectations around here to make deep March runs. Outside of 2016, Maryland hasn’t made the second weekend of the big dance since 2003.
That’s what Willard is here to do.
Thursday was one big party celebrating the fact that the potential for that to happen has arrived much sooner than anticipated.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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