In a game that seemed doomed within the first few minutes, Maryland men’s basketball played a relentless second half to claw back — and even take the lead — against Michigan State.
With less than two minutes to play, senior forward Hakim Hart threw down a dunk to cut the Terps’ deficit to 59-56. The two teams traded defensive stops thereafter, with Maryland securing one more to have another offensive chance. Head coach Kevin Willard burned his final timeout with 33 seconds to play, drawing up a play his team never got a chance to showcase.
Michigan State played “Hack-a-Shaq” with Maryland sophomore forward Julian Reese, who made one of two foul shots to bring the score to 59-57 with 32 seconds to play. Maryland, who nearly turned Michigan State over twice on an inbounds play, was forced to extend the game with foul shooting.
Junior guard A.J. Hoggard capitalized for the Spartans to extend their lead to four, while graduate guard Jahmir Young, who was fouled driving to the hoop on the other end, could not do his part. Young missed the second free throw, forcing a scramble for the rebound, which never allowed Maryland to set up its press.
Sophomore guard Jaden Akins threw down a dagger of a dunk with 4.5 seconds left, sealing the deal on a 63-58 Michigan State win. The Terps fought, but ultimately couldn’t overcome a brutal 3-for-22 3-point shooting performance on the road.
“Tough team,” Willard said in his postgame radio interview with Chris Knoche. “I mean, tough place to play, but proud of my guys, they played hard. That’s all you can ask for on the road.”
Though Maryland picked up its first conference road win Saturday at Minnesota, the start of Tuesday’s showdown was eerily reminiscent to its first five road games — all losses.
Michigan State sprinted to a 15-0 lead, and the underlying tones were nightmarish. Maryland senior forward Donta Scott was benched after picking up his second foul less than two minutes into the game, and he was forced to return before the 16-minute mark of the first half, an indication of the rough start. Willard called his first timeout with Michigan State leading 10-0, and the Spartans’ lead grew to 15 before the Terps could touch nylon.
Hart finally got Maryland going with two free throws nearly four minutes into the frame, and Reese hit Maryland’s first field goal after six straight misses. While the Terps couldn’t use their first points as an offensive springboard, it helped spark their defensive intensity. Maryland mixed up defensive looks, holding the Spartans without a point for five and a half minutes after they hit six of their first seven shots.
Graduate guard Jahmir Young was quiet to start, but the Terps’ best player got going and almost singlehandedly kept the Terps afloat. Young’s scoring — he finished the first half with nine points — and playmaking cut the Spartans’ lead to as little as five, but contributions from his supporting cast were lacking.
The Terps trailed 31-22 at halftime, shooting 30.8% from the field and 2-of-13 from 3-point range. Young and Reese combined for 15 points on 50% shooting in the first 20 minutes; all six other Terps that played in the first half shot just 14.3%.
“We were only down nine points. I mean, it’s [the] Big Ten,” Willard said.
Willard benched graduate guard Don Carey, who was 0-for-4 from deep in the first half, in favor of junior guard Ian Martinez to begin the second. Martinez provided the Terps with a deep two to start the half, but Maryland’s deficit shifted back to double digits by the under-16 media timeout.
Whatever Willard said during the break, it flipped a switch.
The Terps rattled off a methodical 14-0 run, turning a deafening Breslin Center crowd into a library in a matter of minutes. Young and Hart powered through contact for consecutive and-ones, Scott hammered home a dunk and Hart hit a deep triple to highlight the stretch.
Suddenly, the resilient Terps went from being counted out to tying the game at 38 with nearly 13 minutes to play. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo called a timeout after 12 straight Maryland points, and two Emilien free throws gave the Terps their first lead at 40-38.
Maryland used its defensive intensity to compete, turning the Spartans over and flustering them with a mix of man and zone defense. Offensive balance also set in during the second half, with Hart and Scott stepping up alongside Young and Reese.
Senior guard Tyson Walker was limited in the first half due to foul trouble, but he repeatedly had the answer for the Terps. Maryland had extended its lead to 48-44 with about nine minutes to play, but Michigan State answered with a quick 8-0 spurt to regain the lead. Willard burned his second timeout with 7:42 to play to stop the bleeding, and seemingly try to find an answer for Walker, who had 10 second-half points at that time.
The game of runs continued for the next few minutes, but Maryland failed to capitalize on its open 3-point attempts. With his team trailing 57-52, Willard called his penultimate timeout with 4:23 to play.
The Terps weathered the storm and cut the lead to one possession on multiple occasions, but it wasn’t enough. Though it could not eke out the win, Maryland’s relentless second-half effort was another encouraging sign from an improved team.
Three things to know
1. Maryland dug itself in a hole, a story that has become too familiar on the road. Notwithstanding Saturday’s game against Minnesota, the Terps have suffered at least 10-point first-half deficits in road games against Wisconsin, Michigan, Rutgers, Iowa and Purdue. The Terps showed fight at the Breslin Center but proved it is hard to win when falling behind by that much early.
“Part of the start was we didn’t practice very good,” Willard said. “Being on the road for three days, I thought we were a little lethargic yesterday in practice, and I thought that carried over the start of the game.”
2. The Terps once again struggled from deep. Maryland entered the game as the 313th-best 3-point shooting team in the country, and it once again was miserable from beyond the arc. The Terps shot 13.6% from deep and took 22 threes, an alarmingly high number for a team that struggles to drain deep shots. Carey also did not play a minute in the second half after missing all four of his threes in the first.
3. Maryland’s four-game win streak is over, but optimism should prevail. With its recent hot stretch, Maryland put itself in a position where it should — barring a freefall — only be playing for postseason seeding, not postseason fate. The Terps’ computer metrics were strong heading into Tuesday, and a road loss to the Spartans should not drastically change anything. Maryland’s next two games are at home, where it has been perfect in Big Ten play. The Terps play Penn State on Saturday and get another crack at No. 1 Purdue next Thursday.