INDIANAPOLIS— No. 10-seed Maryland men’s basketball fought its way back against No. 7-seed Michigan State in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, however, it was the Spartans who eventually captured the four-point win to advance in the postseason.
Maryland found itself with a two-point deficit at one point after being down 20, giving itself a prime opportunity to make an unlikely comeback late in the game. Eventually, the Terps’ comeback hopes fizzled out, resulting in an exit from the tournament.
Maryland finishes the 2021-22 campaign at 15-17, having lost its last two games to Michigan State. Here are three takeaways from the loss.
Fatts Russell and Eric Ayala closed out their Maryland careers in a big way.
In the first half, Ayala had 12 points while shooting 4-for-8 from the field including two 3-pointers. He also sank his two free-throw attempts. The senior guard also added one rebound and two assists in his 19 minutes on the court.
Russell had nine points shooting 3-for-8 from the field including two 3-pointers and also added a free throw. He had four rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in his opening 19 minutes.
The backcourt duo of Russell and Ayala finished the game with 20 and 17 points, respectively. Russell added seven rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals while Ayala also grabbed six rebounds, had three assists and a steal.
The final buzzer marked the end of the season for Maryland but also signified the end of Russell’s collegiate career.
After five years at Rhode Island and one season with the Terps, Russell has exhausted his eligibility. The guard finished his career with over 2,000 points as well as more than 500 assists and 250 steals.
“I’ve only been here for this year,” Russell said after the game. “But the relationships that I gained, the people that I met — Coach Manning and the rest of the coaching staff and my teammates — I don’t know how to put it into words. They mean a lot to me in that short period of time.”
Although Ayala does have remaining eligibility left after four seasons with the Terps, it seems likely that this was the senior’s final time on the court in a Maryland jersey.
Ayala finished his career with 223 3-point baskets. That places him third all-time in program history behind just Greivis Vasquez who hit 230 and Juan Dixon with 239.
“I feel like my time here at Maryland, I developed into a man,” Ayala said. “And the things that I’ve learned from guys, our managers, our coach, the support staff that we have and everybody that’s come into the program, I’ve learned so much and I’m proud to say I’m going to be a future alum for the University of Maryland.”
Michigan State always had a response in the first two meetings and that didn’t stop Thursday evening.
The first time these two teams met was in College Park.
The Terps showed an impressive fight against the then-No. 13 Spartans on their home court, heading into the final minute tied at 63 apiece. However, Michigan State’s Malik Hall broke Maryland’s heart with a bucket with just 1.9 seconds left on the clock to eventually give the Spartans the two-point victory.
Then in the second meeting, the Terps’ regular-season finale on the road, Michigan State broke the game open early and took a massive 20-point lead into halftime. Even though Maryland clawed back to keep it close in the second half, the Spartans performed well enough to move to 2-0 against the Terps.
This time, Maryland was down nine points at halftime in the Big Ten tournament, a stark difference from the large deficit it found itself in the last matchup. However, the Terps struggled to contain Michigan’s State shooting performance.
The Spartans shot 57% from the field in the field half, 64% from behind the arc and 57% from the free-throw line. Michigan State had 16 field goals, including seven 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Leading the charge for the Spartans in that first half was guard Max Christie who had 10 points on 3-for-3 shooting from the field, all from 3-point range, and one free throw.
Michigan State had five different players score a basket from 3-point range with Christie’s three being a team-high headed into halftime.
On the other side of the ball, Maryland struggled to find a way to score from behind the arc. The Terps took 10 more shots from deep than Michigan State however, both teams sank nine 3-pointers.
Michigan State’s stellar effort from beyond the arc and its ability to answer Maryland’s improbable comeback late in the game was all the response it needed to close out the Terps for the third time this season. Maryland's mediocre 3-point shooting didn't help its cause, but the Spartans’ response was enough to shut the door on an upset.
Maryland never lost its fight.
With the loss, Maryland finished the season with an overall record of 15-17. However, despite all the twists and turns the team faced throughout the season, the Terps never seemed to waver.
“Watching games all day yesterday and the day before I knew we was going to be in the game at the end at some point,” Ayala said. “So, it was just a matter of time before we got going and figuring out.”
On Jan. 9, the Terps nearly took down then-No. 23 Wisconsin at the Xfinity Center. Maryland fell to the Badgers by just one point after being down seven at halftime. In their next matchup, the Terps defeated Northwestern in a double-overtime game after losing to the Wildcats earlier in the season.
A few games later, the Terps defeated then-No. 17 Illinois 81-65 in College Park. The Fighting Illini were without center Kofi Cockburn who Maryland heavily struggled to contain in the first meeting and the Terps found a way to walk away with the win.
The Terps went on to defeat Rutgers on the road by eight points and a few games later, experienced the two-point loss against a ranked Michigan State team. Maryland then traveled to West Lafayette, Indiana, and nearly pulled off what would have been its biggest win of the season over then-No. 3 Purdue but fell by just one point.
Since then, the Terps went on a bit of a hot streak winning four of their last six games to close out the regular season including a win over a ranked Ohio State team.
At the end of the season below .500, this team could have folded and decided not to play with the amount of fight they did, but their commitment to finishing out the season on a high a note as possible was apparent.
“We have a bunch of guys that compete in battle,” interim head coach Danny Manning said after the game. “We talk about playing from tip to horn and that’s something that we definitely did today.”