A.J. Hammons shines as Purdue outlasts reeling Maryland
Purdue flirted with a late-game collapse but held off Maryland for an 83–79 win at home, improving to 16–1 at Mackey Arena this season. The win put a huge dent in Maryland’s chances at a Big Ten regular-season title and vaults No. 20 Purdue into a three-way tie for sixth place, only a half-game out of fourth place and a double bye in the conference tournament.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Maryland is reeling
The No. 10 Terrapins have compiled winning streaks of five, six and nine games this season, but they have lost three of their last four. Those losses include Maryland’s first home loss in conference play since joining the Big Ten (Wisconsin), a loss to previously winless-in-conference Minnesota and Saturday’s loss at Purdue.
Despite a roster full of pro prospects, why is Maryland struggling? The Terrapins’ recent losses can be chalked up to Melo Trimble’s extended shooting slump, a lack of toughness on the glass and minimal bench production.
Trimble was selected as the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year in October, but he has shot poorly over his last six games. Since Maryland’s win over Purdue on Feb. 6, the sophomore point guard is 14 of 60 from the field and 5 of 22 from three-point range.
Trimble’s assist rate has climbed to just over 30% this season, but he’s shooting the ball less effectively and struggling to get to the free-throw line at the rate he did last season.
Wisconsin outrebounded Maryland by 10 when the Badgers won in College Park two weeks ago. Purdue was plus-19 on the glass and nearly doubled Maryland’s rebound total on Saturday. The Terrapins use five players who are 6'9" or taller in their rotation, and three start, so rebounding should never be an issue.
Maryland’s starting lineup, when freshman Diamond Stone starts at center, includes five players with potential NBA futures. But when the Terrapins go to their bench, their reserves haven’t been able to produce.
The reserves have been limited in recent losses to Purdue (10 points, two rebounds), Minnesota (two points, six rebounds) and Wisconsin (four points, five rebounds). Maryland’s starting five can match up with anyone on paper, but Trimble and the team’s bench will have to turn things around in a hurry as the calendar turns to March.
A.J. Hammons is ending his career on a high note
After inconsistent play and questions about his motor during his first three seasons at Purdue, center A.J. Hammons is playing the best basketball of his career in his senior campaign. Hammons scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including a pair of threes, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots against Maryland.
The 7-footer is averaging a career-best 14.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game while only playing 24 minutes per game. He has scored in double figures in his last 10 games, while anchoring one of the country’s stingiest defenses.
As the saying goes, better late than never for the former top-100 recruit who is finally reaching his potential.
Purdue struggles to handle full-court pressure
Purdue picked up a big win on Saturday, but Maryland may have exposed a fatal flaw for the Boilermakers. Purdue led by as many as 10 after the final media timeout and Maryland coach Mark Turgeon implemented a full-court press in an effort to make one final comeback attempt.
It nearly worked. The Terrapins put four defenders across the half-court line with 6'9" forward Jake Layman defending the inbounds pass.
From the 3:50 mark to the 2:06 mark of the second half, Purdue turned the ball over four times, often in live-ball situations that led to easy points for Maryland. Even at home, the Boilermakers lacked composure against the full-court pressure and Purdue appeared to lack reliable ballhandlers to consistently get the ball past half-court.
After Rasheed Sulaimon stole the ball from Purdue guard Johnny Hill, Layman tied the game at 76–76, but Purdue drew enough fouls to win the game at the free-throw line. In a losing effort, Maryland may have exposed Purdue’s Achilles’ heel that could come back to bite it in tournament play in March.