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After slow start, Terps measure up to Zach Edey and Purdue but fall just short


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The threat of 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey — and his ability to dominate — loomed large as the Maryland men’s basketball team headed to Purdue. Compared with Terrapins sophomore Julian Reese, the Boilermakers standout had a seven-inch height advantage, an additional 75 pounds of force and hundreds more minutes of game experience. And Edey’s physical edge was obvious as he towered over Reese before Sunday’s opening tip.

Facing this particularly tall task, Reese shined by turning in perhaps the most impressive performance of his career, and Coach Kevin Willard’s defense rattled the Boilermakers — positive signs that still were not enough. Despite staging a ferocious rally against the nation’s No. 3 team, Maryland could never hit a tying shot in the closing minutes and fell, 58-55.

In packed Mackey Arena, Reese scored 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting against Edey, whom Reese described as “the most physically gifted” center he has faced. It was Reese’s best scoring output in Big Ten play and not far off his career high of 24 points.

Edey, a national player of the year candidate, finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds — “Monster numbers,” Willard called them — but the Terps didn’t crumble. Maryland (12-7, 3-5) didn’t allow much production beyond Purdue’s centerpiece. The Boilermakers’ second-leading scorer was Braden Smith with eight points, and Maryland held Purdue (19-1, 8-1) to a season-low point total.

Maryland made its push in the second half, when the Boilermakers shot 7 for 26 (26.9 percent) from the field. The Terps’ pressure and zone defense flustered Purdue and gave them a chance late.

“The ability for them to switch defenses on the fly was tough,” Purdue guard Ethan Morton said. “It sort of got us out of rhythm. … We just never really found our footing offensively in the second half.”

The Terps got a late burst from senior guard Hakim Hart, who scored nine of his 11 points in the second half.

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Maryland slumped early, falling into a double-digit hole just seven minutes in and facing a deficit as large as 16. The Terps responded well, in part, because “we’ve gotten used to bad starts,” Willard said. Maryland shot 9 for 28 (32.1 percent) in the first 20 minutes; “Our terrible offense in the first half kind of leads to some of our bad defense,” Willard said.

Maryland found a spark after halftime, staring with a 7-0 run to cut Purdue’s lead to seven. The Terps kept chipping away but could never pull ahead despite being within five points for the last 7:44.

Maryland dropped to 0-5 on the road in Big Ten play; it often has fallen into early deficits. That it happened again Sunday left the Terps wondering if, with a different start, the outcome would have been different.

“It’s definitely good for us to see that fight, especially knowing that we can play with anybody in the country if we could bring that for 40 minutes,” guard Jahmir Young said. “That’s the bright side, but at the same time, we just have to learn from it, and we can’t keep making the same mistakes early.”

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Maryland’s hopes of containing Edey seemed in danger when Reese and reserve center Caelum Swanton-Rodger committed two fouls apiece during a 38-second stretch with less than 14 minutes remaining in the first half. Reese committed two fouls on one possession, forcing Willard to turn to Swanton-Rodger, a rarely used freshman who had a breakout performance Thursday in a win over Michigan. But then the 6-11 Canadian ran into the same trouble, committing two fouls in 27 seconds.

Reese logged 16 minutes in the first half and did not commit his third foul until just after halftime. Willard stuck with his 6-9 starter for nearly the entire second half. He played the final 5:21 with four fouls and navigated the circumstances well. Willard has noticed Reese’s offensive confidence growing, and his strong performance at Purdue came after he helped Maryland contain Michigan center Hunter Dickinson.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster for me,” Reese said. “The guys, I feel like they can depend on me more. They’ve got more confidence in me as well.”

Patrick Emilien, a reserve forward, returned after missing just two games with an ankle injury. Emilien has played as Reese’s backup this season, but at 6-7, he didn’t match up well against Edey. Emilien played six minutes against the Boilermakers at power forward, finishing without a point.

The Terps didn’t get much production from beyond the arc. Maryland was 3 for 21 (14.3 percent) from three-point range, including 1 for 10 in the second half, and missed all of its critical attempts down the stretch.

Lately, the Terps have emphasized getting into the paint — and have been successful doing so. In Maryland’s previous three games, the team logged its fewest three-point attempts of the season — 13 vs. Ohio State, 16 at Iowa and 15 vs. Michigan. The Terps upped their number of attempts Sunday and finished with their third-worst clip of the season.

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Young, an experienced point guard, has been a key force in some of Maryland’s best wins. He hit a win-clinching three-pointer against Illinois in December, and he had scored at least 20 points in the previous three games, including wins over Ohio State and Michigan.

Purdue halted that strong stretch. Young missed all seven of his field goal attempts in the first half, including five from two-point range. After a scoreless first half, he finished the game shooting 4 for 18 with 10 points.

“The defense is focusing on me,” Young said. “It’s just me just having to get my teammates involved and trusting my teammates. I really take responsibility for the team coming out slow.”

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