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Three takeaways from Maryland men's basketball’s loss to Iowa

The Terps’ first half effort gave them a chance, but Keegan Murray proved to be too much.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland men’s basketball fell just short of its upset bid against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Monday night. The Terps lost by five in their second Big Ten matchup of the season and they now move to 8-5 on the season and 0-2 in conference play.

The defeat snaps Maryland’s three-game winning streak and interim head coach Danny Manning now has a 3-2 record while leading the program. The Terps are now officially 0-1 in true road games.

Maryland will play next on Jan. 6 in another road matchup, this time against Illinois.

Here are my three biggest takeaways from Maryland’s loss to Iowa.

Maryland’s radical shift of play in the first half gave it a chance to pull off an upset.

The Terps had plenty of momentum heading into Monday night’s game, but all of that momentum was wiped away in the first 10 minutes of their first true road game of the season.

Iowa controlled just about all of the play, and with the excellent start from Keegan Murray, the Hawkeyes looked comfortable on their home court right out of the gates.

Just about four minutes into the contest, Iowa held a 14-5 lead as Maryland opened up its shooting with a 2-for-6 clip. The Hawkeyes were cruising and they bullied the Terps in the paint, scoring 12 of their first 18 points in the paint.

“We came out today and we let Iowa hit their rhythm,” Manning said. “We knew offensively they’re an extremely talented basketball team.”

Iowa had an 8-1 home record coming into the game. For Maryland to go down 18-7, and then eventually 24-15 at the 11:09 mark of the first half, it seemed like a bleak situation.

“It’s been a problem for us... how we start the game, we just gotta clean it up,” graduate guard Fatts Russell said. “It’s been a problem in the past that we’re trying to address... just gotta go back to the drawing board and figure some things out, we should be fine.”

But then something started to click.

Maryland’s top shooters offered some valiant resistance to Iowa’s initial push and thrust the Terps back into the game.

Maryland swiftly orchestrated an 8-0 run to combat Iowa’s early push, and buckets from Russell and Hart capped off the run to bring the game back to 24-20. The Terps’ defensive intensity shifted for the better, and then Russell caught fire and hit the front iron on a three-point shot to cut the deficit to one.

Off of the 4-for-6 start from three-point range, Maryland rattled off what turned into a monster 14-2 run, which spanned about four minutes of gameplay. Another three from Russell, which gave the point guard 12 points on five made shots, gave Maryland its first lead of the night at 33-30 with under six minutes left in the opening half.

The Terps’ run eventually stretched to 21-6, and what had originally looked like the makings of a long night for Manning’s squad, turned into one of the team’s best first halves of the season. Russell, senior guard Eric Ayala and junior guard Hakim Hart combined for 26 first-half points.

Maryland gave itself a chance because of the massive run and it even took a 40-36 lead going into the break, which was just the fourth time all season that it had an advantage on the scoreboard heading into the final 20 minutes.

Iowa’s Keegan Murray exploded as usual, but Maryland’s top scorers answered back with solid performances of their own.

Simply put, forward Keegan Murray is one of the most talented players in the nation in just his sophomore season with the Hawkeyes. He’s a constant threat on offense and he came into the game with nine games with 20-plus points out of his 12 total games.

Coming into Monday, Murray scored 35, 20 and 29 points, respectively, against the Hawkeyes’ previous three opponents. Not to mention he does all of this scoring with the utmost efficiency, averaging over 58% shooting from the floor entering the matchup.

His scoring couldn't be matched by any of the Terps’ defenders, especially in the first half. He started off with nine points in the opening four minutes on 4-for-5 shooting and he consistently had his way in the paint no matter who tried to deflect his efforts. Murray scored 12 points before the 12-minute mark hit, and then soon after totaling 16 points (out of Iowa’s 28 points at the time) on 7-for-9 shooting, though he missed his next four attempts in the first half.

“Definitely a great player,” Ayala said of Murray. “He got some easy ones early in transition and he stayed in rhythm throughout the game I feel like... he never really had a drought.”

The 6-foot-8 versatile forward continued his scoring dominance the rest of the way and maintained his nation-leading scoring average which came into the night at 23.7 per game. After scoring Iowa’s first six points of the second half, Murray finished the game with 35 points on 14-for-21 shooting, eight rebounds and three blocks for Iowa in an astonishing 38 minutes on the court.

“Keegan Murray is a first-round... he’s a lottery pick and that’s what one looks like,” Manning said. “We got a chance to see it up close and personal today.”

He’s a mesmerizing player to watch on the floor, but even though Maryland struggled to contain Murray, the Terps’ top players responded with efficient efforts as well.

All five of Maryland's starters finished with double-digits in scoring. Ayala led the pack with a team-high 19 points while Russell followed his lead with 16 points of his own. Hart and Donta Scott each added 11, while center Qudus Wahab scored 12 of his own to round out the starters.

Depth scoring was the real issue for Maryland in this one.

Outside of the starting five, only six points were added elsewhere. The starters did their part against a very talented Iowa team, but just six bench points are not going to cut it for the Terps when they play some of the more elite teams of the Big Ten.

The Terps’ ability to keep it close in their first true road game of the season is a sign of good things to come.

Maryland has had the luxury of being close to home for the majority of the season up to this point. The Terps kicked off their season with five straight games at home, followed by a journey to the Bahamas, then two more games in College Park before going to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Maryland finished off its nonconference slate with two more home contests, which came against Lehigh and Brown.

The Terps hadn’t been in any kind of true hostile environment until last night. The matchup with the Hawkeyes was Maryland’s first major test in Big Ten play away from home, and it didn’t disappoint.

Despite the game initially looking like it’d be somewhat of a blowout after the first nine or so minutes, Maryland roared back to make it a competitive matchup. It was neck-and-neck with Iowa the whole way and it held a lead in the early portion of the second half. The Terps had the 53-51 advantage with just over 12 minutes left and put the pressure on the 10-3 home team.

It took a two-minute, 9-0 Iowa run for it to pull away from Maryland late in the second half. Murray hit the 31-point mark with a deep, contested three, and it felt like the game was getting out of hand with the Hawkeyes extending its lead to 68-58.

Though Maryland pulled the game to within two with 7.3 seconds left, its persistent effort fell short as it soon after fell 80-75 on the road.

If this game proved anything, it was that Maryland should be able to hang around some of the teams located in the top-half of the Big Ten standings. And as a program, it’ll certainly need to continue proving itself in these kinds of games with a daunting schedule still to come.

After Monday night’s game, Maryland’s next three games and beyond will be a difficult challenge. The Terps will face Illinois on the road and then Wisconsin, a team that just upset No. 3 Purdue on the road, in College Park. Maryland will follow those games with a chance to redeem itself against Northwestern on the road.

The toughest games are still on the way for Maryland, but the tight matchup with Iowa, a talented program in its own right, was a great sign for the Terps moving forward.