Maryland men’s basketball came into Tuesday night riding high off a big win over Illinois that moved it to 8-0 on the season and No. 13 in the AP poll. But, in their first conference road game of the season, the Terps couldn’t overcome 14 costly turnovers and a streaky shooting night, falling to Wisconsin, 64-59, for their first loss under head coach Kevin Willard.
Despite numerous mistakes, the Terps hung around for much of the game — even leading in the second half — but couldn’t overcome a physical and effective Wisconsin defense and saw their attempt at leaving Madison with a victory come up short.
“I thought we hurt ourselves because we didn’t take advantage of some of the opportunities we had,” Willard said.
It wasn’t a pretty start for Maryland, especially on the offensive end. The Terps started 0-for-5 from three and it took until almost seven minutes had elapsed before senior forward Donta Scott broke the ice from beyond the arc. Shots weren’t consistently falling from two-point range, either.
The Terps were struggling to stop Wisconsin too, as the Badgers came out and did something that almost no team had been able to do against Maryland in its first eight games — take control. For much of the first half, the Terps couldn’t slow down a Badgers squad that was getting open looks near the basket and hitting its shots from distance.
“Definitely had to kind of feel my way into [the game] early on,” Maryland graduate guard Jahmir Young, who ended up leading all players with 17 points, said. “I feel like we had a couple defensive lapses early that helped them get going and we was a little stagnant on the offensive end.”
The Terps trailed by as much as 12, and for the first time all season, they had their backs against the wall.
But, Maryland answered the call and showed resiliency, going on a 14-4 run over the last 5:20 of the half, including a string of three consecutive 3-pointers by senior guard Hakim Hart, Scott and junior guard Jahari Long to cut the Wisconsin lead to two by halftime.
“I think once we got past that first seven, eight minutes, I thought we settled in pretty good,” Willard said.
While Scott’s offensive performance wasn’t good — he shot just 3-of-14 from the field — his most important contributions came elsewhere. He blocked three Wisconsin shots and snagged 10 rebounds Tuesday night, leading Maryland in both categories.
Scott was so active down low in part due to the struggles of the team to establish a presence in the paint. After dominating through the first games of the season against weaker competition, sophomore forward Julian Reese has struggled to make his presence felt against Big Ten competition and got into foul trouble again. Reese has registered four fouls in both of the Terps’ conference games.
Wisconsin is not only a physical team, but also one that consistently draws out long possessions and forces opponents to adhere to its methodical style of play both offensively and defensively. That was on display Tuesday, as the Terps were held to a season-low in points.
“They’re excellent defensively. They play physically,” Willard said. “They’re on a string together. They’re an excellent defensive team so you have to give them a lot of credit for them taking us out of our offense.”
When possessions are limited, the margin for error decreases, and Maryland was as undisciplined as it has been through its nine games. For just the second time all season, it lost the turnover battle.
After trading baskets for much of the second half and neither team’s lead extending wider than four the first 13 minutes of the period, the Badgers got hot. An 8-0 run — highlighted by two 3-pointers from freshman guard Connor Essegian — gave Wisconsin a lead and put the pressure on the Terps to respond.
Simply put, they couldn’t. The Badgers continued to shoot well from outside — 4-of-9 in the final 20 minutes — and ultimately pulled away to hand Maryland its first loss of the 2022-23 season. A few Terps buckets briefly brought the result in question, but ending the game by missing 15-of-18 shots from the field was enough to doom Maryland’s hopes of staying unbeaten.
Tuesday night’s game was the second of a four-game gauntlet for the Terps. After beating Illinois on Friday, they had to go on the road to Wisconsin before facing No. 7 Tennessee in a neutral-site matchup still to come this Sunday. After that, the Terps will return home next Wednesday for a showdown with No. 19 UCLA that concludes the meat of Maryland’s nonconference slate.
Three things to know
1. Donta Scott was all over the court. Scott is considered by most to be the most complete player on Maryland’s team, and he showed why Tuesday night despite a rough shooting performance. His nine-point, 10-rebound and three-block performance was the most well-rounded of any Maryland player, but it wasn’t enough to lead the Terps to victory.
2. The mistakes were numerous. In addition to its numerous turnovers, Maryland was discombobulated on both the offensive and defensive ends. It was almost never able to get out in transition — a place the Terps thrive — and allowed Wisconsin to dictate the flow of the game.
3. No time to reflect. Maryland’s difficult early December schedule is both a blessing and a curse. It has to follow up its first loss of the season with a game against a top-10 opponent, which is a difficult challenge but also an opportunity to bounce back with a signature win. After that, the Terps will return home to what promises to be a lively XFINITY Center to play a marquee college basketball brand in UCLA.