The Washington Post
Terps are stuck on the road
Maryland rolled at home but needs away wins this week to clinch a top-four Big Ten seed
For the Maryland men’s basketball team, a perfect record at home in conference play is an enormous accomplishment for Coach Kevin Willard. In many of those games at Xfinity Center, the Terrapins, with their patchwork roster and first-year coach, played like a team that could surprise during the postseason. They knocked off five ranked Big Ten opponents and climbed toward the top of the conference.
Maryland’s downfall has been the other version of itself — the team that plays on the road in raucous Big Ten venues and has just one win in eight attempts. The Terps must finish their regular season in those environments — at Ohio State on Wednesday, then at Penn State on Sunday — and a pair of wins would clinch a top-four seed along with a double bye in the Big Ten tournament.
Both opponents reside near the bottom of the conference standings, and neither is projected to earn an NCAA tournament bid. Ohio State (4-14 in the Big Ten) had lost nine straight before beating Illinois on Sunday. The Nittany Lions (8-10) have only lost three conference games at home this season and could present a tougher task. The Terps have lost five straight games at Penn State, a skid that began during the 2016-17 campaign.
Maryland’s road résumé is bleak: The Terps have managed to defeat only Minnesota, the Big Ten’s last-place team, and struggling Louisville (last in the ACC) away from Xfinity Center. The Golden Gophers and Ohio State are the other teams in the league that have only one Big
Ten road win.
“Learning to win on the road is kind of a process,” Willard said, adding that his Seton Hall teams “got really good at winning on the road” because they leaned on players who had grown in the program for years. “How to battle crowds, how to battle refs, how to battle everything” is a learned skill, Willard said.
“This team is taking good steps and giving ourselves chances to win on the road,” he said. “We haven’t capitalized on it.”
Entering the final week of the season, with two games remaining for each program, Big Ten home teams had an 83-40 record. Every team in the conference has at least three losses on the road, and all but two (Purdue and Northwestern) have at
least five road losses.
“No one’s just sweeping through the league and winning every game, because it’s really hard to go into these atmospheres and win,” said Northwestern Coach Chris Collins, whose team entered Tuesday’s games tied for second in the conference and has a Big Ten-best five road wins.
The Terps are still a peculiar case: Their 10-0 home record is the best in the league. And their 1-7 mark on the road is among the worst. (Ohio State and Minnesota are at 1-8, so those teams have a slightly lower winning percentage.)
For Maryland, defense hasn’t been the issue. The Terps, on average, allow similar field goal shooting (about 45 percent both home and away) and scoring outputs (66 points on the road, 62 at home) no matter where they play.
But the offense has gotten off to slow starts on the road that force the team to spend much of its games chasing from behind. The Terps have shot just 39.1 percent from the field in conference road games, compared with 48.5 percent at home. Apart from Julian Reese, whose production comes mostly in the paint, all of Maryland’s primary scorers have worse shooting percentages on the road than at home.
From three-point range, Maryland has had similar trouble: The Terps are 39.5 percent from beyond the arc in Big Ten games at Xfinity Center. They had back-toback strong outings from the perimeter in their past two games. Maryland finished 7 for 13 (53.8 percent) against Minnesota and 14 for 22 (63.6 percent) against Northwestern, the team’s best clips of the season. But they’re only shooting 28.9 percent from the perimeter in opposing Big Ten arenas.
The Terps have gotten a significant boost from the free throw line at home, attempting 21 per game compared with 10.6 for opponents. That flips when they go on the road and take just 12 free throws while opponents get 20.4.
“We have to bring the same energy,” point guard Jahmir Young said. “We have to have that urgency that we have at home, the defensive intensity, and really embrace it’s going to go up and down.”
Maryland has made strides. The Terps have won nine of their past 12 games, a strong stretch that began with a Jan. 19 home win against Michigan, which steamrolled Maryland in Ann Arbor.
The three losses — at Purdue, at Michigan State and at Nebraska — were decided by five points or fewer.
“Man, we’ve been close,” Willard said. “I thought we’ve played pretty good on the road. We just haven’t closed on the road.”
The Terps’ final opportunities await — their last chances to prove they can have a solid start, play well offensively and stay poised down the stretch even when they’re away from Xfinity Center. And this week, whether Maryland can do so will determine its postseason seeding and, in turn, the team’s chances of making a run in March.