Center Bruno Fernando (23) reaches up to dunk the ball. (Lila Bromberg/ The Left Bench)

Maryland looks to improve defensively against Northwestern

The Maryland Terrapins and the Northwestern Wildcats haven’t met many times in the Xfinity Center, but in the two times the Wildcats have made the trip from Rosemont, Illinois, to College Park, the games were close.

It happened in the 2015-16 season when the Terps outscored the Wildcats 7-1 in the final 94 seconds of overtime to win 62-56. It also happened in the 2014-15 season — the first time Northwestern played at the Xfinity Center in program’s history — when senior forward Dez Wells gave the Wildcats nightmares with a putback in the final second, giving Maryland the win 68-67.

If past games and this season’s stats are any indicators, the third game on Saturday will be close, as well.

“They’re a veteran team,” Maryland sophomore guard Kevin Huerter said of Northwestern. “They run a lot of plays that make them tough to scout. It will be a tough matchup for us.”

Northwestern (15-10, 6-6) has made it through the rough patch it had this season to be one of the surging teams in the Big Ten. The embarrassing losses to Texas Tech and then-No. 17 Oklahoma and the close misses against Purdue and Creighton are distant thoughts.

Now, they have been replaced by wins in five of Northwestern’s last eight games, the most recent being a 61-52 win over No. 20 Michigan.

“You knew a veteran team like them would figure it out,” Huerter said.

In an era where players often leave for the NBA after their first or second year, Northwestern is unusually stacked with depth throughout its roster. They have eight upperclassmen on their roster, including five juniors and three seniors.

The Wildcats are led by senior guards Scottie Lindsey and Bryant McIntosh, and they have both had exceptionally productive offensive seasons. Averaging a combined 27 points, both Lindsey and McIntosh have helped carry Northwestern.

McIntosh is a slightly better shooter, averaging nearly 40 percent from the floor and the 3-point line, but Lindsey isn’t far behind shooting 38 percent from the floor and 33 percent from beyond the arc.

Maryland (16-10, 5-8) is just two days removed from dropping their fourth loss in five games against Penn State, but the team hopes that those experiences will help them with five games before the Big Ten Tournament.

“We’re just trying to learn from everything,” said senior guard Jared Nickens. “We just have to fix some little things and we should be good the rest of the way.”

To compensate for the injuries the team has accumulated this season, Maryland has had to go with smaller lineups during games. That might put Maryland at a disadvantage against Northwestern on defense, as the team has eight players who are at least 6-foot-7. But Nickens believes it will play to their strengths on offense.

“We’re at our best offensively when we’re small,” he said. “We’re just going to have to dial in more on defense.”

Huerter said the Terps having to play with more intensity is one of the best ways to make up for their size on defense.

“You have to be scrappy,” Huerter said. “Box people out and actually put a body on people…There’s a lot of times we don’t even touch people.”

Finding ways to defend better will be key for Maryland against Northwestern, because if it can put the bigger Wildcats off balance, the offense will take care of itself.

“Offensively, we’ve been really good the past couple of games,” Huerter said. “We’re all interchangeable, which makes us really tough to scout. I think that’s tough for teams to guard.”

Maryland tips off against Northwestern at noon.