INDIANAPOLIS — Maryland men's basketball had an opportunity for a fresh start heading into the Big Ten tournament after a chaotic regular season. The Terps finished the regular season below .500, yet they still had a chance to make some noise in the postseason.
A heartbreaking season ended in a heartbreaking 76-72 loss to Michigan State on Thursday night in the second round. As interim head coach Danny Manning high-fived every Maryland player to leave the court, the reality started to kick in that this tumultuous ride of a season was coming to an end.
Maryland fought until the final buzzer like it has all season. The Terps cut a nine-point lead down to two with 16 seconds remaining. However, Maryland could never take the lead in the final minute in the eventual loss despite a good look by point guard Fatts Russell with nine seconds left.
“There was three seniors that played today, that was probably our last college basketball game, so just going out there with... desperation,” Russell said. “We just didn't want it to be our last game.”
The little hope Maryland had heading into the Big Ten tournament, a new start to its once-promising season, was wiped away in the second round — Maryland's first game of the tournament.
With the loss and the end of the season, an era of Maryland men’s basketball ends as well. While the Mark Turgeon era ended abruptly in the middle of this season back in November, the same players he recruited and coaches he employed continued to play in one of the most competitive conferences in the country. But that is now over.
No one knows who will walk the sideline for Maryland next year and attempt to return this program to prominence. But one thing is certain: the faces around the Maryland program are sure to be different.
This loss doesn’t change the course Maryland has been on for the last few months — a transitional period from one long-tenured coach to what Maryland fans hope is another — it just accelerates the process.
Other than the lack of traditional success Maryland is accustomed to, this season was one of agony, heartbreak and chaos. The 2021-22 Maryland basketball team will be remembered as one that faced tremendous challenges and continued to fight despite the losses piling up.
Drastic changes are in store for a program that just had its first losing season since 1992-93.
However, none of that mattered to Maryland in the opening minutes against Michigan State on Thursday. The Terps' start was vastly different than the last time these teams met just four days ago in the final game of the regular season, where Michigan State won 77-66.
In that meeting, the Terps didn't score their first point until more than five minutes into the game. They finished the first half shooting 6% from three and 28% from the field.
On Thursday, Maryland got off to a fast start with threes from Eric Ayala and Russell to take an early 6-4 lead. However, the Spartans quickly countered with an 11-0 run of their own. Maryland found themselves with an eight-point deficit just a few minutes in.
Michigan State won both matchups against Maryland during the regular season, and both times Maryland trailed by as many as 15 points only to climb back and make it competitive late.
With Maryland down 15-7 through five minutes, it looked like the pattern was going to continue in the third meeting between the Big Ten foes. However, that wasn't the case.
Instead of letting the game slip away, the Terps fought to keep it close, rallying off an 8-1 run.
Michigan State went on various runs in the ensuing minutes of the first half, even leading by as many as double-digits. With a few minutes remaining in the first half, the Terps had a major scare. Donta Scott badly twisted his ankle on defense. He had to be helped off by trainers but would return later in the half.
With Scott out, graduate guard Xavier Green stepped up off the bench and went on a personal 5-0 run to cut Maryland’s deficit to three. But for every punch Maryland threw Michigan State’s way, the Spartans had a counter. Michigan State went on an 8-2 run to close the half and give the Spartans a nine-point advantage over the Terps at the break.
“We wanted to start off with a fast start,” Russell said. “They got off in the second half to a good run, they were up 20 points, but we never stopped fighting.”
Michigan State continued to put its best foot forward with Maryland struggling to ever break free. Maryland gave up many open looks from beyond the arc and the Spartans connected on 47% of their threes.
The Spartans opened the second half with a 14-3 run that extended the differential to 20 points. What has been a theme all season, Maryland would not go away quietly. The Terps battled back on the heels of junior forward Donta Scott, who had 11 second-half points. They trimmed the 20 point deficit down to nine with under four minutes to go.
“I knew we we’re gonna be in the game at the end at some point, so it was just a matter of time before we got going,” Ayala said.
Russell did whatever he could to claw Maryland back in the contest, finishing with a game-high 20 points in the final college game of his career.
But like it was in the previous matchups against the Spartans, the late run was too little, too late as Michigan State came away with the win despite Maryland’s almost valiant comeback.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s backcourt duo carried once again, but it wasn't enough. Maryland’s backcourt duo of Russell and Ayala has been tremendous down the stretch of the season, leading the Terps to wins in four of its last six games of the regular season. Thursday was no different as Russell and Ayala tried everything they could to will Maryland to a win in what was likely the last time both players will put on a Maryland uniform. The guards combined for 37 points. Russell had 20 points, while Ayala had 17.
“Those two guys, certainly for us, have been two guys that have been cornerstones for our team this year,” Manning said.
2. Maryland’s season is over. Maryland’s long, abysmal and chaotic season has officially come to a close. With its second-round exit in the Big Ten tournament, Maryland finishes the season with a 15-17 record. They will not qualify for the NCAA or NIT tournament, effectively ending the season. Maryland posted its worst record since the 1992-93 season and big changes are in store for the program in the offseason, starting with the hiring of a new coach.
3. Who is out the door for Maryland? Maryland will lose a large portion of its production this offseason, starting with Russell, who has exhausted his eligibility in college basketball. Next out the door is Ayala. While Ayala technically still has one more year of eligibility it is unlikely he uses it and even more unlikely he comes back to Maryland. Role players Green and Simon Wright will also be gone. Everyone else on the roster is eligible to return, but with the uncertainty of who the next coach will be, it is likely many players decide to transfer out of the program. Everyone's eyes will be on starters Scott, Hakim Hart and Qudus Wahab. It’s unlikely those players make a decision until after a new coach is announced.