By Logan Hill
Smothered just outside the paint with less than 20 seconds to play, Donta Scott turned and threw up an awkward layup. The shot fell, and gave Maryland the lead for good.
The Terps relied on huge second half performances from Fatts Russell and Eric Ayala, who tied for the team lead with 19 points, to come out on top in the 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational.
Maryland men’s basketball finally got back in the win column and avoided their longest losing streak since 2004-05, taking down No. 20 Florida in Brooklyn, 70-68.
“I love the resiliency of our guys,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “I thought there were times when things weren’t going our way, we got a little bit frustrated. Florida was making plays, and we got rattled, but our guys found a way to stay together and they fought.”
In their second game under Manning, the Terps started strong from the field, making four of their first seven attempts. However, turnovers kept Florida around as Manning’s squad struggled to maintain its rhythm.
While the Gators started the game a dismal 5-15 from the field, Florida turned six early Maryland turnovers into five points to stick around despite the early drought.
Through the game’s first ten minutes, Maryland led, 13-12.
Ayala paced the Maryland offense early, making two of his first 3-pointers. After a quick 5-0 scoring spurt gave Florida a 17-16 lead, Ayala’s second three put Maryland back in front in the back-and-forth battle.
“I liked that ball,” Ayala said.
From there, both sides took turns with the lead, exchanging blow after blow. The Terps got the lead up to five with just over three minutes until the half, but the Gators used another 5-0 burst to knot the first half at 33 apiece.
The intensity picked up right where it left off to start the second half.
Anthony Duruji hit a pair of free throws to break the tie, and a Phlandrous Fleming Jr. layup quickly put the Gators up by two possessions just over a minute into the period. Russell found the cup to cut it to one score, but Colin Castleton pushed it back to four by knocking down a pair of free throws.
Finally, Maryland pulled it together.
Spurred by a 3-pointer from Russell that rattled around the rim before falling, the Rhode Island transfer immediately drew a charge on the defensive end. A possession later, Ayala hit another three, before making a layup just moments later. In a matter of minutes, Maryland went from trailing by four to leading by four.
Both teams traded 3-pointers, which made it 46-42 Maryland with just under twelve to play.
While the Terps were able to cut down on their turnover issues from the first half, new problems arose when the Gators entered the bonus with 11:52 to go.
Tyree Appleby hit a three from the wing to make it a one point game, but celebrated too early, earning a technical in the process. Hakim Hart hit one out of two, but on the ensuing possession, Donta Scott drove to the hoop and finished with his right, getting fouled in the process.
Scott made his attempt from the stripe, putting the Terps up five with 8:39 remaining.
Then, Maryland’s fouling problem reared its ugly head. Following a missed free throw from Castleton, an offensive board by Jones gave the Gators another possession. Fleming Jr. caught it on the wing and shot an open three as Julian Reese closed out, making contact with his hand in the process.
Fleming Jr. went to the line and went 3-3, putting the game back within one possession.
Maryland answered with a quick 5-0 run, only for Appleby to hit back-to-back triples and make it a one point game.
Ayala put Maryland up by three with another layup, but Russell gave Maryland a chance to build their slim lead.
Caught down near the rim, Russell got into position and took a blow from Jones as he drove down the lane. Russell hit the deck, drawing a charge in the process. His second drawn charge of the second half gave his squad the ball back.
“That’s just Maryland basketball,” Russell said. “We pride ourselves on the defensive end. We drill it hard everyday. If you’re not out there taking charges, then you’re not out there giving energy and doing the little things. We all try to do the little things that’ll help us win, today it was just me taking the charges.”
Ayala took control on offense once again, as once again he hit a layup. Only this time he got fouled in the process.
Ayala made his lone attempt and put Maryland in front 64-58 with 3:46 remaining.
The Gators cut it to one after a pair of sloppy fouls on the defensive end for the Terps, but Russell came up big one more time on the defensive end.
With Florida threatening to take the lead, Russell stole the ball and was fouled in the process. Maryland’s guard made 1-2, pushing the margin to two points.
Appleby made his biggest three of the game on the very next possession.
With Russell providing defense, he pulled up from the right wing, drilling the shot with just over a minute to go and putting the Gators in front 66-65.
After coming up big on defense, Russell once again stepped up on offense. He immediately drove the lane and kissed it off the glass, drawing enough contact to draw a foul. He knocked down his free throw and Maryland led by two.
Duruji got open for the Gators and knotted things up, but Scott put Maryland back up by two with his layup with 13.3 to play.
Appleby had a stepback look from beyond the arc just before the buzzer, but it clanked off the back iron as time expired.
The victory ended what had been a downward trend for a Maryland squad that stumbled out of the gates to begin the 2021 season.
“I felt like today was a step in the right direction,” Russell said.
Grabbing their first victory under Manning, the Terps will now have a couple of weeks off, heading back to College Park 6-4 and executing well enough across the board to build confidence as the conference schedule looms.
“The locker room was very, ‘turnt up’, if you will,” Manning said. “Which was a good thing because my guys worked hard and been through a lot of transitions the last week and a half.”
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