Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland tries to keep tournament hopes alive against No. 3 Purdue

When Maryland opened Big Ten Conference play against Purdue nearly two months ago on Dec.1, the outlook for both teams looked eerily similar.

At 6-2, both the Boilermakers and Terps were in prime position to make a statement in their conference. This was even more true for Maryland, which had the chance to beat a team that had just finished November with two wins against Top 25 teams, one of them being then-No. 2 Arizona.

But in a fashion Maryland fans would become painfully familiar with, the team came just short in an 80-75 loss.  Purdue ascended to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 poll since then, while Maryland plummeted to ninth in the Big Ten and saw its NCAA Tournament hope all but disappear.

Now, as the Terps travel to West Lafayette, Indiana, to play Purdue for the second time this season on Wednesday, any postseason hopes hang by a thread.

Maryland’s previous game against the Boilermakers was in many ways a precursor of what was to come for the rest of the season. Despite Purdue jumping out to a 14-point lead at halftime, Maryland found itself in position to win the game by cutting the Boilermakers’ lead down to three in the final seconds of the game.

Purdue, however, squeaked away with a win thanks to a missed game-tying 3-pointer from Jared Nickens and a pair of free throws from P.J. Thompson.

As demoralizing as the loss was to the Terps, it was heightened by the fact that Purdue’s bench didn’t score a single point. Senior guard Dakota Mathias and senior center Isaac Haas led the team with 41 combined points, and each of Purdue’s starters finished in double figures.

Purdue has skyrocketed since meeting the Terps earlier this year to one of the best teams in the country. If Maryland has any chance of upsetting the Boilermakers, it will require a similar effort to the one it gave against Michigan State on Jan. 28.

The Terps’ effort against the Spartans, particularly on defense, gives the team some hope in the rematch against the Boilermakers. Maryland found a way to limit Michigan State, which has been one of the best offensive teams in the Big Ten, to just nine made shots in the first half.

Purdue’s offense is similar to Michigan State’s. The team ranks second in Division I from three-point range, shooting 43.6 percent. Maryland will have to keep Purdue off its game, and it will have to do it early. If Purdue has an off night it should even things out for the Terps.

Additionally, Maryland is going to have to find a way to get someone outside of Purdue’s starters to beat them. It can’t have all five starters score double digits again. Playing better defense will force Purdue to look for other options to score points, which should put the team in an uncomfortable position.

Maryland’s NCAA Tournament hopes will either be rejuvenated or killed against Purdue. The Terps need a quality win, and if they can play similar to the way they did against Michigan State, they have a chance of getting one.