- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 7, 2021

Mercifully, Donta Scott’s 3-pointer fell through the hoop, ending a run of nearly nine minutes in which Maryland basketball couldn’t score, turned the ball over five times and became a sieve defensively.

The Terrapins missed 11 shots and watched as No. 5 Iowa scored 20 straight points to turn a 10-point deficit into a 10-point advantage. And Scott’s shot was only a momentary reprieve in the Hawkeyes’ onslaught. The wave kept coming — score after score — and led to another dismal performance early in Big Ten play.

Maryland couldn’t hold off the flood, dropping Thursday night’s matchup 89-67 and falling to 1-5 in conference play. The lack of a strong interior defender was painfully obvious at times, with Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza battling through double-teams on the block to score 24 points.

“Luka Garza is as good as advertised,” guard Eric Ayala said.

Without the rim protectors of years past — such as Jalen Smith or Bruno Fernando — the Terrapins are forced to use a small-ball lineup for long stretches. That system has shown promise this year, stretching the floor in games such as an upset over then-No. 6 Wisconsin.



But as of late, in losses to Indiana and Michigan, opposing big men have wreaked havoc on Maryland. The Hoosiers’ Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 22 points and added 15 rebounds. The Wolverines’ Hunter Dickinson posted 26 points and 11 boards.

Coach Mark Turgeon lost Smith to the NBA this offseason, and forwards Makhi and Makhel Mitchell transferred away from the program during the middle of last season. That left a hole in the frontcourt, one the coach hoped to fill with incoming transfers — Galin Smith and Jairus Hamilton — as well as Chol Marial, a 7-foot-2 center who has yet to make an impact in College Park.

So far in the 2020-21 campaign, those replacements haven’t seemed to pay off, leaving a 6-foot-7 Scott to play the five for long periods. He’s a physical forward, but Garza is a different entity to compete with.

“We have no low-post presence, especially against the zone,” Turgeon said. “It’s kind of hard, to be honest with you. It’s a very unusual team, a very unusual set of circumstances.”

Still, the Terrapins (6-6, 1-5) erupted out of the gate, forcing Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery to call two timeouts within the first six minutes. He implored his team to wake up after allowing Maryland to jump to a 17-7 edge.

His expostulations broke through, and Iowa (10-2, 4-1) began whittling — then bludgeoning — its way into the lead, with the help of a zone defense that enabled the 20-point scoring run.

“Their zone, they kind of tried to keep us from getting into the paint,” said guard Aaron Wiggins, who finished with a team-high 17 points. “And when you have a guy like Luka and they’re backup [Jack Nunge], with their size, they clogged the paint.”

Garza entered averaging 27.5 points per game. Every contest, teams attempt to double him at the post, and early in Thursday’s tilt, the strategy worked against the Washington, D.C., native.

Guard Darryl Morsell, returning after surgery to repair a broken bone in his face, wrestled the ball from Garza and earned a jump ball. Morsell and Hamilton forced the ball away from Garza on another possession.

But Garza adapted, driving his way between those doubles and finding his way to the rim. He twice completed and-1s before halftime, and Iowa’s lead ballooned to 18 at the break. The Terrapins finished the opening frame with 10 turnovers.

“Turnovers are unacceptable,” Turgeon said. “… We just couldn’t make a shot. For a stretch, couldn’t make a shot, and had some really good looks.”

While Garza is an imposing presence, he’s far from Iowa’s only playmaker. Guard Jordan Bohannon helped stave off any second-half surge from Maryland, converting 6-of-9 triples and finishing with 18 points. So the Hawkeyes’ lead remained steady throughout the second half.

In the end, Thursday’s display exhibited Maryland’s interior deficiencies, with Garza having his way and his Iowa cohorts filling in as needed.

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