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Maryland men’s basketball unable to pull it together against Virginia Tech, falls 62-58

The Terps fell apart in the final few minutes.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With Maryland men’s basketball in desperate need of a stop trailing by one with 20 seconds to go, Virginia Tech’s starting forward Justyn Mutts drove the left baseline and banked a shot in to give the Hokies a three-point lead.

Maryland called a timeout and had an opportunity to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Terps got a great look out of the timeout for guard Hakim Hart. He lined up a three that bounced off the rim and out, like many of the Terps attempts throughout the night, giving possession back to the Hokies.

“He thought he was open, he shot it. It is what it is,” head coach Mark Turgeon said.

It was the decisive play as Maryland fell to Virginia Tech in a thriller, 62-58, on Wednesday night in College Park, Maryland in the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

In front of a loud and packed house in the Xfinity Center, Maryland finally got off to the strong start it has desperately been looking for all season.

After an early Virginia Tech three to start the scoring, Maryland went on a quick 8-0 run capitalized with a dunk from center Qudus Wahab, followed up by an and-one from the transfer big man.

The game plan for Maryland was clear early on: feed Wahab and let him go to work. That strategy proved successful in the early going, allowing the Terps to jump out to an early lead.

However, the Hokies weathered the storm, and with Maryland leading by just two points five minutes through the first half, Fatts Russell found himself at the top of the key with the shot clock dwindling. Russell drove in the lane and lofted up a shot that hit the back of the net just as the shot clock buzzer went off, prompting an explosion from the crowd.

“It was a great crowd,” Turgeon said. “The student section was terrific, and we weren’t able to get it done.”

On a night where Maryland great Len Bias was honored throughout the game, including the program handing out replica Bias jerseys to the first 4,000 students in the building, Maryland’s fans showed out in waves of gold.

Behind a raucous and energized crowd, Maryland fed off the energy from its home fans early. As both teams got settled and some starters took the bench for reserves, the scoring slowed down.

With the early game excitement out of the way, Maryland began to look sloppy. The Terps turned the ball over five times in a five-minute span and did not score for close to three minutes, which allowed the Hokies to come back and tie the game at 16.

The second-best scoring defense in the country in Virginia Tech hunkered down, making it difficult for Maryland to find the bottom of the net.

A layup by Hakim Hart ended the drought with under eight minutes to go in the first half. At the under eight minute media timeout, the game was tied at 18.

At that media timeout, Bias, who was inducted into the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame posthumously last week, was honored by his parents taking center court to a standing ovation from the crowd.

With Wahab back in the game, Maryland started to click again. The Terps guards did a good job of feeding the big man. At one point late in the first half, Wahab was isolated on the low block. He made a move and threw a show at the basket with a whistle following his release. The basket was good and another and-one was in store for the Georgetown transfer. The following play, on the defensive end, Wahab swatted a Hokies’ shot off the glass.

It was a back-and-forth battle for much of the first half, with teams trading blows for the first 20 minutes of action. Maryland struggled to knock down threes once again, shooting 1-for-8 in the first half. At the half, Virginia Tech had a slight edge, 31-29.

After a slow start to the second half, Maryland exploded on an 8-0 run by driving to the rim and locking down defensively. The Terps did not allow the Hokies to score for close to four minutes and took an early four-point lead after trailing at halftime.

The Terps held on to the slight advantage despite Wahab getting into foul trouble early on in the latter half, forcing him to take a seat on the bench. While the Hokies were the highly regarded defense coming into the matchup, Maryland’s defense proved to be suffocating. The Terps did not allow Virginia Tech to make a field goal for over seven minutes in the second half, a critical stretch that allowed Maryland to slowly build on its lead.

Maryland began to abandon three-point attempts in the second half, looking mostly for shots near or around the rim. The Terps finished the game 1-for-13 from three and 0-for-5 in the second half.

Wahab, who had been dominant in his time on the floor, entered the game with under ten minutes to go and three fouls. Within a minute of getting back on the floor, Wahab was called for an offensive foul, his fourth of the night that sent him back to the bench.

However, his replacement Julian Reese was just as capable on both ends. Reese blocked four shots in the latter half, grabbed seven boards and scored five points.

“I thought Reese, as well, is going to be a heck of a player here,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said. “We had a hard time with him flooring it.”

No matter the punches Maryland threw its way and how much the crowd was into it, Virginia Tech refused to falter. The Hokies took a three-point lead with five and a half minutes to go in the game, their first lead since the beginning of the half.

As the game was entering crunch time, Maryland did not convert on a field goal attempt in over four and a half minutes, forcing Turgeon to call a timeout under four minutes to go trailing by six.

Maryland had a plethora of chances late in the game but could never get the necessary basket to put them over the edge as they lost its second straight game.

“I think I was open for a split second, but I think I could have took my time and dribbled to the basket,” Hart said.

The Terps will be back in action on Sunday as they open up Big Ten play at home against Northwestern.

Three things to know

1. Maryland’s offensive game plan was centered around Qudus Wahab. There was been a lot of conversation about Wahab’s minutes and production as of late with backup big man Julian Reese providing solid minutes off the bench, but against Virginia Tech, the game plan, especially early, was clear: feed Wahab. The Terps often ran sets to isolate Wahab on the block, and the big produced near the rim. Wahab finished with 14 first-half points. Wahab dealt with foul trouble in the second half, limiting his time on the court and Maryland’s overall offense. Wahab scored just four points in the second half.

2. Turnovers and not enough assists hampered Maryland’s offense. Maryland’s lackluster play, particularly in the first half, was detrimental to an offense looking to finally break through. Maryland has nine first-half turnovers and just two assists to go with it. Turgeon remarked last week that Maryland was not a good passing team, but that poor of an assist-to-turnover ratio is a recipe for disaster. The Terps finished with 15 turnovers and six assists.

3. Tonight was another chapter in the three-point shooting struggles. Once again, Maryland struggled mightily to make shots from long distance on Wednesday night. Maryland was 1-for-8 from three in the first half. However, the difference against Virginia Tech was that when the Terps couldn't connect from long range, instead of continuing to chuck them up, the three ball was mostly abandoned from the game plan. Maryland only shot five three balls in the second half, making none of them. That was also in part because of the success Maryland had in the paint. The Terps outscored the Hokies 38-20 in the paint.