Kevin Willard is no longer undefeated as Maryland’s head coach, dropping his first game on the Terps’ sideline as No. 13 Maryland men’s basketball fell to Wisconsin, 64-59, in Madison.
Maryland’s offensive showing was its worst of the season, and while its defense was solid, it wasn't enough on the road against a quality Big Ten opponent. Maryland moved to 8-1 on the season and 1-1 in the Big Ten with a tough two-game stretch on the horizon.
Let’s get to some takeaways from the loss.
Maryland’s undefeated start to the season came to an end.
Winning can’t last forever, and on the road against Wisconsin on Tuesday night, Maryland’s perfect start and good fortune came to an end, picking up its first loss of the season.
The Terps seemingly had a lid on the rim, particularly in the first half. Willard’s group picked it up from three as the game went on, finishing the game shooting 42% from long range. However, it was the two-point shooting that was abysmal. Maryland shot 35% from two, its lowest mark of the season.
Maryland got good looks but failed to connect on threes and easy layups around the rim. Poor shooting on Maryland’s end led to counter-looks from Wisconsin, which drilled them at a consistent clip in its home arena.
The Terps trailed by as many 12 in the first half but showed resiliency when they exploded on a 11-0 run toward the end of the first half, entering the break trailing by just two. The Terps looked slow and unenergized on both sides of the ball for the opening 10 minutes, leading to a double-digit deficit; Maryland had not trailed by more than three at any point this season before Tuesday.
Because it has always played with a lead or in closely-contested games, it was unknown whether Willard’s group would roll over or respond and battle back. Tough teams do the latter, and if Maryland has proved anything this season, it’s that it is tough.
The second half was an evenly matched back-and-forth affair but Wisconsin edged out the Terps, who scored just 30 points in the second half after scoring 29 in the first.
Maryland’s magic came to an end in its first Big Ten road game of the season, but there is no reason for fans to panic. It is incredibly challenging to win against good opponents on the road in the Big Ten, and while Maryland’s ranking may be higher than Wisconsin’s, the Badgers are a quality team. It is even more difficult to win when you shoot better from three than two, a rarity that speaks to how disappointing of an offensive performance it was for the Terps.
Maryland’s offense looked lost, in large part due to an influx of turnovers.
Maryland’s fast paced, exciting and at times chaotic offense was without the free-flowing, unselfish look it displayed through the first eight games. For most of the night against Wisconsin, it was chaotic and stale.
Maryland’s 59 points marked its lowest offensive output of the season by 12 points. In the first few minutes, the Terps had a plethora of open looks but failed to convert. As the game went on and Wisconsin’s defense clamped down, Maryland struggled to generate quality looks, leading to forced shots at the rim.
“You've got to give them credit,” Willard said. “I think we talked a lot about it the last couple of days about their physicality on defense, especially at home.”
Maryland’s sloppy performance is evident in the influx of turnovers it committed. The Terps turned the ball over 14 times, their second-most in any game this year. Many of Maryland’s turnovers simply came from careless passes on the perimeter or on post entries.
After starting 1-for-8 from three, Maryland heated up from distance, knocking down six of its next 11 attempts. It was the two-point shot attempts that were problematic for Maryland. Too often, Maryland’s stars Jahmir Young and Donta Scott settled for poor quality shots.
Scott finished with nine points on 3-for-14 shooting. Maryland had just two players in double figures — Young with 17 points and sophomore forward Julian Reese with 10 points.
“I thought we hurt ourselves because we didn't take advantage of some of the opportunities we had. We had two close shots at the rim that we missed,” Willard said.
Poor shot quality and too many turnovers led to a poor offensive performance from the Terps. Willard claims he gives his players a ton of freedom offensively as long as they play hard defensively. That philosophy certainly can work, as evidenced by an 8-0 start, but it can also produce sloppy offensive performances, like what Maryland showcased on Tuesday night.
Maryland has its toughest two-game stretch of the season coming up.
After landing at No. 13 in the latest AP poll on Monday, Maryland lost its first game of the season. Despite the loss to Wisconsin on the road, the Maryland faithful should still be optimistic after seeing Maryland beat a great Illinois team at home just a few days ago.
With just two Big Ten games in the rearview, it appears Maryland can compete with the best in the conference, despite a 1-1 record. Landscaping the conference, there are no outright juggernauts — other than maybe Purdue — and it is sure to be another year with deep and competitive teams across the league. That puts Maryland in a position to be a contender in the conference. Whether Maryland fans buy that notion will be decided once Big Ten play is in full gear following the new year.
But a win against then-No. 16 Illinois and a close loss on the road to a physical Wisconsin team proves Maryland is a contender in the conference.
Now, Maryland has an audition to convince the country it is a national title contender, which is a sentence anyone in the country would have been crucified for writing before the season.
Its first test is this Sunday at the Barclays Center against No. 7 Tennessee. In a neutral site location against one of the best teams in the country, it will be the toughest opponent Maryland has faced on the young season, and will likely be one of its toughest tests all year. The Volunteers’ only defeat was an upset loss to Colorado in the second game of the season. Since then, Tennessee beat reigning national champion Kansas.
Following Tennessee, Maryland will host No. 19 UCLA next Wednesday. UCLA has losses to just Baylor and Illinois, putting it in the conversation among the best in the country. Maryland is sure to have an electric atmosphere, similar to its win over Illinois on Dec. 2. Anytime a west-coast power makes the trip across the country, it will garner excitement, even if a Maryland-UCLA matchup is becoming an annual contest once the Bruins join the Big Ten.
The next week will tell Maryland’s players, staff and supporters a lot about what this team might be able to accomplish in the coming months.