The Maryland men's basketball team's first Big Ten Tournament ended Saturday, with a 62-58 semifinal loss to Michigan State.
The No. 2-seeded Terrapins (27-6) lost an early 16-point lead and their first close game of the season against the No. 4 Spartans, falling short of a rematch with top-seeded Wisconsin in the league title game Sunday afternoon. With the loss, Maryland is likely ticketed for a No. 3 seed – with a slight chance at a lower placement – in the NCAA Tournament.
After a scorching start, Melo Trimble stumbled in the final 30 minutes of the game to finish with 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting. Dez Wells had an uncharacteristically quiet 10 points, while Jake Layman was barely a factor on offense at all.
Early, Maryland stormed out of the gates. Trimble hit a three-pointer on the Terps' first possession, and Wells immediately followed with a right-handed dunk in transition. Five minutes later, the Terps had scored 12 of the game's first 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, and the Spartans were in a brutal hole almost from the outset. Trimble had 11 points by the game's first media timeout (which only comes at a stoppage after four minutes of play).
Michigan State recovered somewhat from there, though. Travis Trice scored seven of the Spartans' 13 points, which was all that kept them on the fringes of competitiveness for much of the opening half. The Spartans went on a 15-2 run over a seven-minute span toward the end of the half, bringing what had looked like a blowout back to a five-point game before Maryland finally put a stop to it. The Terps stabilized from there and ended the half leading, 33-25.
But at the start of the second half, Maryland's lead dissipated. The Spartans immediately mounted a 13-3 run, taking their first lead of the game on a Denzel Valentine three-pointer at the 12:32 mark. Maryland responded with a 7-0 run after falling behind by four points, though, setting up an inextricably close final 10 minutes.
The teams traded small leads through the next six minutes, but three Gavin Schilling points put the Spartans up by a triple with just inside four minutes left. That margin held into the final two minutes, when Maryland – for the first time all season – lost itself. Evan Smotrycz took a flagrant foul that led to three Michigan State points, and Wells was whistled on an egregious call after cleanly swatting away a Trice lay-in try. Maryland never recovered from there and finally lost a game decided by fewer than seven points, after winning its first 11 in such situations.
1. Maryland cannot survive without its best players. Maryland started the game brilliantly, with Trimble making his first five shots and getting to 13 points before the Spartans were even awake. But once Trimble cooled off, Maryland's offense went into the tank for the rest of the first half. The Terps scored just 10 of the last 28 points of the opening 20 minutes, because nobody picked up the offense Maryland lost when Trimble's rampage slowed. Wells was in foul trouble and only took two shots, and Layman's only shots were four free throws once Maryland reached the bonus. The same story continued deep into the second half. Trimble, Wells and Layman are the Terps' three best players. They can get by when only one or two of them are clicking. But if none of them are? Good luck.
2. Evan Smotrycz was quietly key, for a while. It's been an undeniably brutal year on offense for the senior forward, but he has made enormous defensive strides and become a key cog in the Maryland machine. He chipped in with nine points and three rebounds, despite dealing for most of the day with Schilling or Branden Dawson, two of the country's better rebounders. When Maryland turned to ice after a hot start, Smotrycz was vital in keeping the Terps in the game. His late sequence of a missed jumper and a flagrant foul, though, didn't help.
3. Maryland and Michigan State could be onto something, here. Maryland's double-overtime win in East Lansing in December was a thriller. The Terps' January win in College Park offered mostly one-sided entertainment, but this was a second exciting back-and-forth between the two new conference foes. It's silly to go hunting for rivalries based on nothing other than geography, which these two schools certainly don't share. But the Terps and Spartans played some legitimately fascinating basketball games this year. Here's to watching more of them in the years to come.