Mere seconds separated the Maryland men’s basketball team from its first Big Ten win, a sorely needed comeback victory over Penn State in an uneven start to the season.
The Terps, who trailed by 11 in Wednesday’s first half, had reenergized the Xfinity Center crowd and led by two with four seconds remaining. The Nittany Lions’ inbound, intended for Ace Baldwin Jr., sailed into no man’s land.
Maryland guard Jahari Long sprinted forward to grab it.
The two collided, the referee’s whistle blew and, two free throws later, a stunned Terps squad readied for overtime. Some Maryland players rued the game’s extension, but Julian Reese turned their attention forward — imploring them to forget about the foul and focus on the next five minutes.
The message resonated with the Terps, who rallied for the 81-75 win.
“Julian Reese is really developing into a heck of a leader,” coach Kevin Willard said.
Reese didn’t score in overtime but had already made his mark. He played a career-high 42 minutes, scored 24 points and nabbed 15 rebounds. He’s been one of the few positives for the Terps and has consistently produced despite a suboptimal offensive environment.
The Terps’ shooting woes — they made just five of 25 3-point attempts — allow other defenses to clog the lane and send double teams to slow Reese.
Penn State started by letting its center, former Terp Qudus Wahab, battle with the Maryland junior down low. Reese scored seven points in the first half on 3-of-5 shooting. But, when Wahab ran into foul trouble, Penn State started to double Reese using the defender guarding DeShawn Harris-Smith, a nonshooter.
“I’m pretty used to that now,” Reese said of the double teams.
His experience has given him answers, ones he used to torch the Nittany Lions. Reese’s two assists underrepresent his passing abilities; he routinely found open shooters along the wings.
When the double came too late, as it did early in the second half, Reese calmy hopped between the two defenders to create space for a smooth hook shot.
“It’s really just reps in practice,” Reese said. “We send doubles at me in practice to prepare for games like this, and it prepared me well.”
“I thought he did a great job of passing out of it and being patient. Forty-one minutes is a lot for a big guy,” Willard said. “I thought he did a great job of just, all night long, picking and choosing his spots, being physical, rebounding and obviously making his free throws.”
Reese drew 13 fouls against Penn State and made 10 of 15 free throws, including nine of 11 in a second half in which he led all scorers with 17 points. He’s shooting 66.2% on free throws, a nearly 13-percentage-point jump from last season.
That’s one of many statistical improvements for Reese, who earned All-Big Ten honorable mention as a sophomore. He’s also increased his scoring average from 11.4 to 15.9 and his rebounds from 7.2 to 10.2.
The Terps shot dramatically worse than the Nittany Lions on overall field goals, 3′s and free throws. They won because they had 22 more rebounds and 18 more free throw attempts than Penn State. Reese led Maryland in both categories.
He also led the Terps off the court, helping them refocus to secure a conference win.