- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2023

COLLEGE PARK — It was a remarkable home season sealed with a kiss, one that reignited a love affair between a basketball team and its university. And its culmination came via two Upper Marlboro natives — who chose to play their final collegiate season at home in Prince George’s County — combining for a Senior Day show in their last Xfinity Center appearance.

Jahmir Young scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half, Don Carey added 13, and Maryland shot a season-high 63.6% from three-point range, knocking off No. 21 Northwestern, 75-59, on Sunday.

“We talked about it before the game, just staying in the moment,” Carey said. “Really enjoying the moment, enjoying the crowd, enjoying Xfinity. We do that every game, cause you never know the next day you won’t be playing. Really just soaking everything in and appreciating the moment.”

The senior point guard duo combined to finish 8-of-14 from beyond the arc, as the Terrapins (20-9, 11-7 Big Ten) hit a season-high 14 of their 22 attempts from long range. It was far and away— by 10 percentage points — their best three-point shooting performance this season.

“I think our defense has created opportunities where we’ve been able to get easier shots,” Maryland coach Kevin Willard said. “At home, I think we’ve taken advantage of being aggressive on defense. Even though it’s led to some breakdowns, It’s given us opportunities to get some easy threes in transition.”

Guard Chase Audige led Northwestern (20-9, 11-7) with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Fellow guard Boo Buie only managed a lone 3-pointer in the first half and just a single free-throw made in the second, finishing with 4 points while contributing eight of his team’s nine assists. He had 22 first-half points en route to a career-high 35 in the Wildcats’ previous outing on Feb. 23 at Illinois.

“We weren’t trapping as much in the press, but we wanted to just kind of get the ball out of his hands early, make it hard for him to get it back,” Willard said of keying on Buie. “Which I think we did.”

The win completes a 16-1 College Park campaign for the Terrapins, who added to their program-record 13-game home conference winning streak — three-straight wins to complete last season and all 10 this season. 

“Going 10-0 in this conference at home is, you know, that’s pretty impressive for this group,” Willard said. “I just think it shows you how great of a program this is, how great of a fan base it is.”

The third sellout crowd of the season — the most since 2016-17 — was treated to a mostly clean game by the Terrapins. Maryland only turned the ball over seven times, committed a season-low eight fouls and gave up just two steals to the team that leads the Big Ten in turnover margin.

His team didn’t have any Senior Day jitters, but it was admittedly hard for Willard, who described himself as “an emotional wreck” nearing the end of a whirlwind first season at Maryland.

“The only thing I told them is I just wanted to have fun today. It was the last chance that they’re going to be in the building … I can’t believe we’re already done with our home games,” Willard said. “So I just wanted them to have fun.”

The entirety of the first half was a rare display of precision from both schools — something each has struggled with despite their successful records.

Northwestern entered as the Big Ten’s worst shooting team, only making 40.5% of their field goals this season. That wasn’t a concern to start, as the normally defensive-minded Wildcats hit at a 59.3% clip in the first half (16-of-27).

Audige scored 10 of Northwestern’s first 20 points, staking the Wildcats to a 20-18 lead midway through the first half. His run was part of a streak of five straight made baskets for the visitors.

For Maryland, finding a rhythm from 3-point range has been a glaring weakness all season. But Young and Carey — two of the five seniors honored in their final game in College Park — shocked the Terrapins to life from deep.

Maryland hit 8-of-11 3-pointers in the first half, a blistering 72.7% for a team that is next to last in the Big Ten in that category (31.3%). Four of those came from the hands of Young, including one from the top of the circle to beat the buzzer and give Maryland a 41-39 lead at the break.

“I feel like that momentum swing, it was big,” Young said. “Just for us to be up at half and just to go into the second half, you know, with the most amount of confidence that we can win the game.”

The lead changed hands nine times in the opening session, with no team getting up by more than five points. Maryland, however, put the back-and-forth trend to rest in the second half.

Three of Maryland’s first six baskets were from long distance, stretching its lead to nine, 55-46. Northwestern then reverted back to its mean, going more than 4:00 without a point. The Wildcats would finish the second half only 30.8% from the floor

“[We were] just trying to make it tough anyway we can,” Young said. “They’d been rolling the last few games, so it was an emphasis for us to come in and impose our will on the defensive end.”

The Terrapins stepped on the gas, and Carey sealed the Wildcats’ fate with a kiss blown to the crowd after draining a corner 3-pointer in front of his bench. His third triple extended Maryland’s lead to 62-51, the proverbial exclamation point on an extraordinary season of success at home.

“It’s really a bittersweet feeling, to be honest,” Carey said of the moment. “To do that on Senior Night, it’s definitely something special. But more importantly, I’m just thankful for the crowd, man. We’ve got one of the best crowds in the country. So not being able to play in front of them at home again, it’s tough. So I was just blowing them a kiss to show them I appreciate them.”

The Terrapins finished this home game as they have so many others, by heading behind the hoop and into the student section to thank them for showing up throughout the year, while also allowing Maryland’s five seniors — Young, Carey, Hakim Hart, Donta Scott and Patrick Emilien — to receive their flowers as well. It’s something that Willard started in his decade-plus at Seton Hall.

“I feel like we have the best student section now, and they’ve come out and they’ve supported us. It’s a Sunday noon game, you know. Just wanted to say thank you,” Willard said. “I think it’s very important — these are student-athletes — to say thank you to the people coming out and supporting them.”

The Terrapins have the tiebreakers for the conference’s No. 2 seed by beating Indiana and now Northwestern, both with the same league record.

Two games remain on the road, at Ohio State and Penn State, with the conference’s top-four finishers earning a double-bye at next week’s Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.

• George Gerbo can be reached at ggerbo@washingtontimes.com.

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