Hakim Hart scores season-high 23 as Maryland pulls away from Penn State

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COLLEGE PARK — Maryland’s Hakim Hart scored 15 second-half points en route to a game-high and season-high 23 Saturday afternoon, as the Terrapins pulled away from Penn State late in a 74-68 victory.

Fellow guard Jahmir Young added 18 points for Maryland (17-8, 8-6 Big Ten) — all of them in the final 21:08 of play — as a grind-it-out first half gave way to a scoring sprint and the Terrapins’ eighth conference win of the season, moving them into third place in a muddled Big Ten.

“I thought Jahmir got us back into the game in the second half ,but he was expending a lot of energy on the defensive end and I just wanted to give give the ball to Hak just to give Jameer a break, Maryland coach Kevin Willard said. “I thought he did a great job with just probing, being aggressive, finding guys and then, obviously when the game was close, getting getting to the basket.”

Kanye Clary led Penn State (14-11, 5-9) with 17 points, and leading scorer Jalen Pickett added 15, as the three-point-happy Nittany Lions shot 46.2% from deep but struggled elsewhere, with only 15 made two-pointers.

“I thought we did a pretty good job and got them to take some tough twos, and even some tough threes, where I thought for most of the first half and early second half they were just getting easy twos and easy threes,” Willard said.

Donta Scott finished one point from a double-double (9 points, 10 rebounds), and Julian Reese added 11 points for the Terrapins, who shot 53.2% from the floor. Maryland remains the only undefeated team at home in Big Ten play, a now 10-game streak that dates to last season, and is 13-1 in College Park.

“Our building is loud. It’s a great home court,” Willard said. “You need it in this league because winning on the road in this conference is unlike anything I’ve experienced.”

Penn State ground down Maryland underneath initially, with three blocks in the first four minutes, two of them on Reese shots. Both teams started a combined 3-11 shooting, leading to slow-to-warm scoring in front of the first announced sellout of the season — 17,950 — at Xfinity Center.

The Nittany Lions were hampered by turnovers and abysmally poor shooting, to the tune of 10% in the first eight minutes. Maryland took those mistakes and misses to make buckets in transition, including a signature moment off of a Hart steal. He then found Young, who quickly floated it toward the basket for an Ian Martinez dunk. The Tic-Tac-Toe play put Maryland up 18-9 midway through the half. Ten of PSU’s 13 turnovers came in the first half.

“Hakim is like the heart of the team, and he does all the little stuff, especially defensively,” Young said of Hart, who finished 8-of-10 shooting. “So to see him get going like that on offense, really just trying to get him the ball and let him work. He was tonight, and we were all feeding off of him.”

Penn State, the Big Ten’s second-best three-point team at 10.8 made per game, found their rhythm to close the half. The Nittany Lions connected on eight-straight shots, and by halftime, Maryland’s lead was only three, 31-28. 

Ten of Penn State’s 13 turnovers came in the first half, one of the main reasons the Nittany Lions only had a single free throw attempt in the session. PSU coach Micah Shrewsberry was upset at the discrepancy — four from the line all game for his team, compared to Maryland’s 23 — but Willard was quick to chalk that up to their shot-launching style of play.

“Well, they took 26 threes. They shoot a lot threes … you’re either gonna shoot threes or you’re gonna shoot free throws,” Willard said. “I think that’s the one thing I’ve learned from being in this game: Most of the time, if you’re shooting 26 threes, you don’t have a whole lot of time to get in the bonus.”

Pickett scored Penn State’s first seven after the break and their first lead of the game, 35-32. But a quick 9-0 Maryland run keyed by Reese put Maryland back up six, 41-35, a margin they wouldn’t relinquish.

Double-teams from the Nittany Lions stunted Scott, who only had three first-half points. The senior didn’t quit inside, though, deliberately working to find scoring opportunities in the paint in the second half.

“Dante plays so hard at times that that sometimes he has a hard time slowing down. And I think as he gets more and more tired during the game, it’s hard for him to play fast because he’s tired,” Willard said. “And so I think it actually helps him sometimes when he gets a little tired he just takes his time. And, you know, he’s a beast down there.”

He helped Maryland to make eight of 10 shots in the in the game’s late stages. Combined with a 4:00-plus Penn State scoring drought, it sealed the Terrapin win.

But the flowers for the day deservedly went to Hart, who got the mob treatment from his teammates after both his final basket — a corner three in front of the Maryland bench with under a minute to go — and after the handshake line at mid-court.

“Hak’s just, he’s a really good young man,” Willard said. “So I think when you see someone that’s humble, you see someone that works hard every day in practice, you see him play well, guys get excited.”

“That was like the first time it happened … so it was a pretty cool moment,” Hart said. “Just being a leader on this team just means a lot to me, because I’ve been here for four years, and I just want to just do great things and win championships.”

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