Maryland men’s basketball desperately needed to string together a few defensive stops in the final minutes of the game against Northwestern.
With under three minutes to go, Maryland held the Wildcats around the perimeter as the shot clock winded down. Northwestern had just a three-point lead and Maryland was knocking on the door if it got another stop. A Wildcat fired off a shot that bounced off the rim, but Northwestern’s Pete Nance was there for the offensive rebound and the dagger. He put home the layup, and on the next possession, he came right back and drilled a jump shot to officially halt the Terps’ comeback.
Northwestern found itself leading by eight in the last minute, and a miracle never came about for a Maryland team dealing with the departure of its head coach only a few days earlier.
Maryland couldn’t dig itself out of its second-half hole and eventually fell, 67-61, on Sunday in College Park. It marks the Terps’ third straight loss, the program’s first loss in Big Ten play and the team’s first loss under interim head coach Danny Manning. Maryland is now 5-4 this season.
“We right there. I mean, all the games that we lost, I think you know, we’ve been up, we had the lead and a few of them we gave the lead away. And even today, you know, we went up a little bit. We had a little run. And then like I said, three, four minutes left, you know, we’re down three, and just got to lock in on certain possessions and just figure it out,” Eric Ayala said.
“It’s a new environment, you know, we getting better though. We’re definitely close like, it’s right there.”
In Manning’s first few minutes as the leader at the Maryland bench, the Terps got off to an inspiring start. Hakim Hart went 2-for-2 to start the game and he drilled a three from the top of the key on Maryland’s first shot attempt to get things going. Hart then came back the other way in transition and followed up on a missed layup to score the Terps’ first five points.
Maryland’s typical shooting woes that it has endured all season continued early in the first half. Outside of Hart’s perfect start from the floor, the other Terps’ starters combined to miss their first nine shots of the game, while Northwestern took a 9-5 lead in the opening five minutes.
Missed shot after missed shot on the offensive end, Manning opted to go to his bench early. But soon after the bench came in, the Terps suffered a major scare.
Sophomore guard Ian Martinez drove down the baseline on the right side, then stumbled and hit his head on a Northwestern defender’s knee, resulting in a long injury timeout for one of Maryland’s top depth players. Martinez never returned with what was deemed a head injury and Maryland was short a player the rest of the way.
Donta Scott helped remedy Maryland’s early deficit on the scoreboard and on the bench with a three. A few plays later, guard Fatts Russell zoomed to the hoop and sunk in the basket with contact to bring the Terps back within one about eight minutes in.
Northwestern’s scoring continued, but Maryland had an offensive response with a few baskets. Russell first used some savvy dribble moves to slice through the defense, then kicked out to Hart for a corner three, which found its way in. Russell’s assists kept coming and he found a wide-open Qudus Wahab in the paint for a two-handed slam to allow Maryland to be within striking distance.
The Terps trailed by three, but Hart’s offensive revival, similar to the one he had against Richmond in the Bahamas, supported the Terps’ scoring efforts. Hart swished in a shot from deep to tie the score at 18 apiece. The junior guard scored just 12 combined points in his last two games coming into the afternoon matchup, but he knocked down 4-of-6 shots in the first half to give him a team-high 11 after the first 20 minutes.
It was neck-and-neck towards the end of the opening half with both teams shooting under 40% from the floor. Freshman forward Julian Reese scored his first two points of the game with just over four minutes left to give Maryland the 25-23 advantage.
Sophomore guard Marcus Dockery was given an expanded role with Martinez out and James Graham III opting to go into the transfer portal earlier this week. Dockery played five minutes in the first half and nailed a jumper from the left wing, his first points of the season, to keep the Terps in front.
Maryland still ended up trailing at halftime, however, as it went into the break down 30-27. It was the seventh time in nine games that Maryland hasn't held a lead going into halftime, though there were a few first-half positives for the Terps.
They successfully connected on just five of their past 27 three-pointer attempts over the past two games, but they hit 5-of-12 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half of this one to help it only face a three-point deficit to Northwestern with the second half looming.
The second half started off with a bang for Maryland.
Wahab rejected a shot inside on the defensive end, then Hart put in his fourth made three-pointer of the day to knot the game at 32-32. Scott spotted up from long distance a couple of possessions later and made the second three-pointer of the half.
The game took a much faster pace all of a sudden and Maryland became a little discombobulated on offense. It went on a scoring drought of over two minutes as Northwestern grabbed the lead once again, taking a three-point advantage over the Terps with just over 15 minutes remaining.
The inability to put up points allowed Northwestern to maintain and expand its lead in enemy territory. The Wildcats eventually held Maryland without a field goal over a seven-minute span as they captured a commanding lead. It took just 1:13 for Northwestern to go on a 7-0 run to find itself up 47-39.
Russell stopped the bleeding with a big three from the right wing and the Terps quickly shrunk the Wildcats’ advantage to five, but the scoring for Northwestern drowned out Maryland’s comeback efforts. Northwestern secured its largest lead of the day with a nine-point advantage with the eight-minute mark approaching.
Time was running out for Maryland and it needed to make its run sooner rather than later.
Ayala came alive with a three-pointer, just his second made field goal of the game, to bring Maryland back within four points. Wahab then sunk two free throws to push the score to 53-51 with six minutes remaining.
The energy in the building was becoming more apparent, and with each missed shot from Northwestern, the Terps’ comeback hopes became more of a budding reality. Russell swished home a three from the top of the key to decrease the deficit even further, though Maryland still faced a one-possession deficit heading into the final four minutes.
Northwestern’s Nance helped close the door on the Terps. His bucket with under three minutes left and then another jumper put the Wildcats up 61-54.
Maryland pulled the game to within four points with 25.5 on the clock, but soon after time ran out on Maryland and sealed the program’s third straight loss.
Three things to know
1. Ian Martinez left the game to be evaluated for a head injury. Fairly early on in the first half, Maryland’s Martinez went down with an injury under Northwestern’s basket. There appeared to be contact to his head after it collided with a defender’s knee as he drove to the basket. Martinez was slowly helped off the floor and into the locker room. Martinez averaged 17.6 minutes and 4.6 points per game entering Sunday. He’s one of the best role players for Maryland and one of the first guys to come off the bench, so this is a situation to monitor moving forward.
2. Maryland’s top guards struggled on offense. Ayala and Russell, the two guards that are supposed to be the heartbeat of the Terps’ offense, couldn’t get much going on Sunday. The duo combined for just seven points in the first half on 2-for-11 shooting, with Ayala getting five of those points. It wasn’t necessarily smooth sailing the rest of the way for the program’s top guards. Ayala finished just 2-for-12 for 10 points, while Russell scored 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting.
3. The Terps drop their first game under Danny Manning. There were a lot of question marks coming into this game for Maryland, which parted with its head coach just two days prior. Manning was thrust into the head coaching position, relieving Turgeon of the position he held for 10 seasons and change in College Park.
“This first 48 hours has been crazy,” Hart said of Turgeon’s departure. “Nobody expected it, Danny Manning, he’s still a good coach for us.”
Manning wasn't able to bring Maryland back to its usual winning ways, though. The Terps are now 0-1 under Manning as interim head coach as the program’s new era without Turgeon is underway.
“I can't speak for him, but I know that our team will continue to follow the direction that his leadership provided for so many years,” Manning said. “I didn’t expect to be in this position, but I’m ready to take on responsibility with helping with this team.”