Terps Welcome Purdue Tuesday Night
After splitting the first two games of this pivotal five-game stretch, losing at then-No. 24 Wisconsin before handling Nebraska, No. 24 Maryland returns to action Tuesday night when No. 12 Purdue visits the Xfinity Center. The two teams have already met once this season, with the Boilermakers picking up the 62-60 win back on December 6. Junior point guard and Big Ten POY candidate Carsen Edwards remains the leader of this group, but as one would expect a lot has changed for Purdue (and Maryland) since that first meeting.
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The biggest change may be the presence of freshman forward Trevion Williams, a seldom-used reserve during the early portion of the season who has been the Boilermakers’ best offensive option in the post since the team resumed conference play. Including the first meeting between the Boilers and Terps, the 6-foot-9, 280-pound Williams appeared in eight games and averaged 2.0 points and 0.8 rebounds in just 3.4 minutes per game. He played just one minute against Maryland in early December, and his best scoring night during that stretch was a nine-point effort in a win over Robert Morris.
Since that first meeting the freshman has six double-digit scoring efforts and two double-doubles to his credit, averaging 8.7 points and 6.2 rebounds in 15.1 minutes per game while shooting 59.8% from the field. He’s started each of Purdue’s last six games, moving sophomore center Matt Haarms to the bench. And the move has worked out for Haarms as well, with the 7-foot-3 pivot averaging 8.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 1.2 assists in 23.2 minutes per game and shooting 76.7% from the field during this six-game stretch.
Add in the presence of players such as Aaron Wheeler, who scored 15 points in the first meeting, Evan Boudreaux and Grady Eifert, and Purdue head coach Matt Painter’s front court rotation is more formidable now than it was in early December. Maryland’s tandem of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith is one of the best in college basketball, and they combined to grab 22 rebounds in the first meeting. But they were also limited to 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting, with Fernando also turning the ball over four times on the night. They’ll both need to be better in the rematch, but the task will be a bit more difficult to carry out due to Purdue’s improvement in the paint.
On the perimeter the matchup between Edwards and Anthony Cowan Jr. will be worth the price of admission, as these are two of the Big Ten’s best. Neither shot the ball particularly well in West Lafayette, with Cowan scoring his 18 points on 4-of-17 shooting and Edwards (20 points) going just 4-of-15 from the field. Purdue was able to use 6-foot-6 sophomore Nojel Eastern on Cowan at times, giving the Maryland junior a different look as he attempted to find quality shots. Eastern isn’t much of a threat offensively, but his length and athleticism make him a versatile defender who can be given the task of guarding multiple positions.
Purdue’s produced some very good perimeter defenders during the Painter era, from Chris Kramer to Raphael Davis to Dakota Mathias, and Eastern could be next in line.
The question of who steps forward to consistently provide supplementary offense to Edwards’ efforts has been answered as well, with senior Ryan Cline stepping into the role. Averaging 12.7 points per game on the season, the shooting guard is making 44.5% of his field goal and 44.1% of his three-point attempts. Cline does the majority of his work on the perimeter, as he’s averaging 7.4 three-point attempts per game, and he’s also second on the team in assists (3.2 apg). In the ten games Purdue has played since resuming its conference slate, the senior guard is averaging 12.3 points per while shooting 47.1% from the field and 53.8% from three.
Purdue is getting increased contributions from the “supporting cast,” which has helped Edwards as he continues to do much of the heavy lifting offensively. Averaging 24.6 points and 3.4 assists per game on the season, the junior guard is accounting for 23.0 points and 3.2 assists per in Purdue’s last ten outings. He’s the first page on any opposing scouting report, not just the first line, and Edwards continues to excel. Maryland things difficult for Edwards in the first meeting, but he still put 20 points on the board.
Cowan, Eric Ayala and any other Terp who is called upon Tuesday night will need to use the same strategy. Edwards is most likely going to get his, as he is a gifted shot-maker who can make plays on the perimeter or around the basket via dribble penetration. What Maryland can ill-afford to do is let him get going while also failing to adequately account for the likes of Cline and Williams. These two teams match up quite well, which should make for an fun night in College Park as the Big Ten race continues to play out.
And for scheduling reasons this is a big one for Maryland, which has road games at Michigan and Iowa next up on the slate. A win Tuesday night would put Mark Turgeon’s team in a good spot heading into those games, while a loss would make the task of earning a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament that much tougher to complete.