Maryland men’s basketball nearly overcame a 15-point first-half deficit, but couldn’t finish the job as it fell to Michigan State, 63-58, on the road Tuesday.
The Terps, who fell to 16-8 overall and 7-6 in the Big Ten, found plenty more success after a sluggish start but couldn’t make up for a horrid shooting performance and clutch baskets by the Spartans.
Here are a few takeaways from the game.
Maryland limped out of the gate but nearly overcame its slow start.
Michigan State’s Joey Hauser set the tone less than 10 seconds into the game with a free-throw line jumper while being fouled, an indicator of how the first few minutes of the game would go. His teammates fed off that energy, as the Spartans came out hot on a 15-0 run.
It looked like Michigan State was going to turn Tuesday’s game into a rout, but the Terps showed incredible resilience in a hostile environment. Despite only scoring 22 points in the first half, they locked in on defense and battled all the way back, going on a 12-0 run in the second half to even the score at 38.
Maryland’s defense continued to lead the way both in production and intensity, generating multiple opportunities for it to run in transition and discombobulate the Spartans, eventually even taking the lead. Still, Michigan State hit timely shots and stunted Maryland’s momentum enough to pull out a win in the final minutes. The momentum really shifted when Terps sophomore forward Julian Reese was called for a technical foul after getting tangled up with Hauser, who led all scorers with 20 points.
Even though Maryland managed to make the game winnable in the final moments, it put itself behind the 8-ball with its slow start. This year’s Michigan State team is by no means up to the level that some of its previous teams were, but it is still too good to allow to get off to a big lead early, especially in East Lansing. When the crowd is into it at the Breslin Center, it’s exceptionally difficult to emerge victorious. Getting back into the game is a commendable achievement, but the opening few minutes made the already difficult task of getting a win that much harder for the Terps.
Shot selection was the difference.
It’s been talked about ad nauseam this season, but once again it was Maryland’s poor 3-point shooting that cursed it Tuesday night.
The recipe for success has been simple on the offensive end for the Terps this season: move the ball toward the hoop through dribble-drives or penetrative passes and take opportunistic threes on kick-outs or after deliberate ball movement around the perimeter.
Maryland’s big run to take the lead in the second half coincided with its willingness to focus on 2-pointers rather than 3-pointers, especially when attacking the rim in transition. The only three made in that stretch was a Hakim Hart jumper that came after Jahmir Young drew the defense into the paint and kicked out for an open look. Those are the only types of threes that the Terps should seek.
What transpired in the first half was not that, as half of the Terps’ 26 shots were threes. They didn’t have success relying on the three-ball, shooting just 2-for-13 from beyond the arc. The second half wasn’t much better — Maryland went 1-of-9 from three, and graduate guard Don Carey, who went 0-for-4 from three in the first half, didn’t play a single minute. Young, Hart and Scott combined to go 2-for-14 Tuesday.
On the other hand, Michigan State hit nine of its 20 threes, including four in the second half that seemed to come at perfect times to prevent Maryland from wrapping up what would have been an epic comeback.
While Carey has certainly shown flashes of the sharp-shooting that intrigued Willard enough to bring him to Maryland and solidify his spot in the starting lineup, he has had more than his fair share of struggles. He is shooting just 29.8% from three this season, but until Tuesday had been trusted with plenty of minutes. Could Willard send a message by giving junior guard Ian Martinez more of Carey’s minutes or even place him back in the starting lineup? Maryland’s next game on Saturday will be a good indicator.
The outlook for Maryland’s season remains unchanged.
Even though the Terps were riding a four-game win streak and could’ve picked up a big road win, Tuesday’s game presented a relatively low-stakes situation in terms of their long-term goals. A win would’ve improved their chances of getting a double-bye in the conference tournament and could’ve played a role in improving their seed in the NCAA Tournament — which they remain a virtual lock for, barring a major collapse — which would’ve no doubt been a positive result, but a close loss that featured a strong second-half showing should be enough to keep spirits high among Maryland players, coaches and fans.
As long as Maryland can continue to win the games it’s supposed to and doesn’t get upset, it should be fine entering postseason play. Its home game against No. 1 Purdue next Thursday looks like the only real resume-building opportunity on its schedule before the Big Ten Tournament, but there are still a few chances for solid victories in the final seven games of the 2022-23 regular season. Saturday’s home game against Penn State, in what is quickly trending toward being a sold-out XFINITY Center, will be a solid indicator of whether or not Maryland’s momentum will keep rolling.
The Terps are still in KenPom.com’s top 25 and will realistically finish somewhere between second and ninth in the Big Ten, a testament to how wide open and log-jammed the middle of the conference is this year. The Spartans entered Tuesday as slight favorites and a loss to them, especially on the road, is not one to hang heads about. As long as the Terps take care of their business and don’t get upset, they will be dancing this year with a real chance to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. Anything more than that is gravy, especially in year one under a new head coach.