Down one with just over half a minute to play in overtime, Maryland men’s basketball was inbounding the ball near its own bench with a chance to take the lead and come away from a hard-fought game at Nebraska with a win.
Senior guard Hakim Hart looked to graduate guard Jahmir Young, who had come alive in the extra period, but reading his eyes was redshirt freshman walk-on guard Sam Hoiberg. Hoiberg intercepted the pass and took it the other way for a layup, inserting the proverbial dagger in Maryland’s hopes, as the Cornhuskers sealed a 70-66 win from there.
The Terps mounted a valiant comeback effort after trailing by seven at halftime, even taking a lead that grew to as much as eight in the second half, but they weren’t able to hold off a late push by Nebraska that forced overtime.
Maryland sophomore forward Julian Reese had one of the most productive games of his young career, posting 16 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, but was outdueled by Nebraska senior forward Derrick Walker Jr., who led all scorers with 23 points.
“I thought Derrick Walker was phenomenal,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said on the team’s postgame radio show. “He made a couple big plays when they needed some big plays.”
Cornhuskers junior guard Keisei Tominaga also managed a 20-point showing, including a deep three early in the overtime period.
Maryland came into Sunday rolling after an upset home win over No. 3 Purdue — its sixth win in its last seven games — and looked every bit of a team due for a letdown after an emotional win. The Terps started 2-for-16 from the field and had five turnovers in the first nine minutes, unable to get anything going on the offensive end. Senior forward Donta Scott, who hit an early three to kick off the game’s scoring, missed all but one of his final 14 shots. Young, who ended up with 16 points, didn’t have a much better first half, going 2-for-8 with just four points.
“I just thought, again, with the way we came out offensively on the road, it’s just killing us,” Willard said.
The Terps woke up during the middle part of the first half, compiling a 10-0 run on the back of two threes from Hart — who led the team with those six points at the half — and two layups by graduate forward Patrick Emilien, briefly giving them the lead. But Nebraska answered with a brief scoring spurt of its own and continued to hold the lead into the halftime break, sporting a 31-24 advantage.
The Cornhuskers were led early by the tandem of Tominaga and Walker Jr., who combined for 22 of their 31 first-half points.
Tominaga, a known sharpshooter, entered Sunday having scored double-digit points in nine of his last 10 games, the only exception being his three-point showing against the Terps on Jan. 28. They were unable to stop him from getting going Sunday.
Walker Jr. was able to take advantage of two first-half fouls by Maryland sophomore forward Julian Reese, who played 10 of the opening 20 minutes but had to stay cautious not to be whistled again. Reese did well to manage his foul trouble — something he has become familiar with this season — playing 31 minutes Sunday despite finishing with four fouls.
Reese was blazing hot to start the second half, converting an old-fashioned three-point play before blocking a shot and forcing a turnover. His biggest contribution was his ability to draw fouls, as his physical presence was key in Nebraska committing six fouls in the first five minutes.
That physicality set the tone for the Terps to turn the tide of the game and make a comeback. Maryland went on a 17-2 run with Walker Jr. and senior guard Sam Griesel having three and four personal fouls, respectively, asserting itself with the lead for the first time since the early stages of the first half.
During that stretch, the Terps’ defense shut the disoriented Cornhuskers down, forcing a nearly eight-minute field goal drought that featured 0-for-8 shooting and Nebraska’s only two points coming from free throws.
“I thought our effort in the second half was much, much better,” Willard said. “I thought it was much more sustained.”
As was the case with the Terps’ first-half run, Hart drained two threes, his third and fourth of the game. As a team, Maryland shot 31.8% (7-of-22) from three Sunday, but Hart led the way with four triples.
Nebraska didn’t wilt, though, and battled back, tying the game with just one minute to play. The teams traded baskets from there — a floater from Young and a tough finish by Walker Jr. — sending Sunday’s contest into overtime.
The teams went back-and-forth in the extra period, but Hoiberg’s steal and score proved to be enough separation for the Cornhuskers to come away with the victory.
“We had too many turnovers at crucial times. I still don’t know what happened at the end of overtime only down one, but I have to go back and watch that,” Willard said.
Maryland will have a prime chance to get back on track Wednesday when it returns home for a game against last-place Minnesota, a must-win for the team’s hopes at a high seed in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
Three things to know
1. Maryland couldn’t close it out. After coming back to take the lead in the second half, Maryland fell apart in the final moments of the game and let Nebraska force overtime. Once there, four turnovers hindered the Terps’ chances of emerging victorious. With just four games left on the schedule and Sunday presumably being their most likely road win remaining, they will look at this game as one they should have had.
2. Foul trouble. Personal fouls were a major factor in Sunday’s outcome, with the Terps’ second-half comeback coming on the backs of Walker Jr. and Griesel’s foul trouble and eight players registering at least three fouls. Junior guard Ian Martinez fouled out in overtime, which lessened Maryland’s defensive and offensive prowess.
3. A blow to the Terps’ chances at a double-bye. With the race for a top-four seed in the Big Ten Tournament tightening — nine teams are currently in contention — every game becomes that much more important. Losing a game to the third-to-last-place team in the conference makes Maryland’s margin for error far slimmer.