STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Maryland men’s basketball’s 2022-23 season has been defined by two things: its almost unmatched ability to win at home and its incapability to do the same on the road.
In their final true road game of the season, the Terrapins looked like they were destined to go against that trend at the Bryce Jordan Center — home of Penn State — a building which has historically been a bane for them. But even after leading by as many as 16 points, Maryland couldn’t get it done, allowing Penn State to storm back and win.
Sophomore forward Julian Reese finished a layup to briefly jolt Maryland ahead with 19 seconds left, providing a glimmer of hope. On the ensuing possession, Penn State senior forward Seth Lundy missed a three with a trio of Terps ready to grab the crucial rebound. Everything was in place for Maryland to end its regular season with a win — one on the road, no less.
But, to the dismay of first-year Maryland head coach Kevin Willard, the ball was knocked free and directly into the hands of Penn State senior guard Camren Wynter, who effortlessly dropped it in the hoop with less than second remaining to hand the Terps a crushing 65-64 loss.
“We played great defense. We tried to slap the ball instead of grabbing the ball, and we slapped the ball right out of our own hands and that’s how it fell right into the kid’s hands,” Willard said.
Maryland finished the regular season 20-11 overall and 11-9 in the Big Ten. All nine of those conference losses came on the road, and the Terps’ one road win in league play was over last-place Minnesota.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed, frustrated and angry because we’ve worked hard and we’ve battled on the road,” Willard added. “We just haven’t been able to finish, to be honest with you.”
Slow starts have doomed Maryland in just about all of its numerous road losses. Most recently, it fell 10 points behind Ohio State just over four minutes in and had to play from behind. Long story short, that game did not go the Terps’ way.
But this time, Maryland didn’t cower when it trailed early in the first half. It put its foot on the gas and went on a 24-5 run, drilling seven 3-pointers in the process. Three of those triples were from junior guard Ian Martinez, who was one of four Terps to score double-digit points Sunday with 11, joining graduate guards Jahmir Young (26) and Don Carey (11) as well as Reese (12).
Penn State didn’t score a single point from the 12:45 mark to 4:02 of the first half — that’s eight minutes and 43 seconds. The Terps could practically taste a top-four seed and double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament, which they would’ve clinched with a win.
“We were very patient, you know working the ball inside-out, just hitting the open guy, letting the ball work. And just being solid on defense as well, we were getting a lot of good stops,” Carey said.
But in the second half, the script completely flipped. On senior day, the Nittany Lions made a push to narrow Maryland’s lead to seven with just under nine minutes to play. Young, who was the brightest spot in what turned into a dark afternoon for the Terps, answered with a clutch layup while being fouled, an opportunity for Maryland to quell the surging Nittany Lions.
Still, Penn State wasn’t going to go away without a fight with its NCAA Tournament hopes hanging in the balance. A barrage of made baskets quickly lessened the deficit and brought the hopeful fans in attendance to their feet. With the momentum clearly swinging their way, the Nittany Lions built upon their growing confidence and outscored the Terps 43-29 in the latter half to pick up a key win.
“They was hitting shots in the second half. ... That was the biggest difference really, shot-making,” said Carey. “And then, you know, we had a couple empty possessions as well on offense, and then ultimately, at the end of the day, we didn’t come up with that rebound.”
Maryland’s Big Ten Tournament seeding will be finalized later in the day when the rest of the league’s games conclude. What’s known for sure is this: the Terps will begin their postseason campaign in the second round on Thursday instead of the quarterfinals on Friday.
“It’s single elimination. It’s a whole different time of year. It’s what sports is all about,” Willard said. “You got to be able to bounce back. You can’t bounce back, shouldn’t be playing sports.”
Three things to know
1. Jahmir Young carried Maryland. Even though they didn’t win, Young was huge for the Terps. His 26 points were one of the main reasons they led for as long as they did, and he made a huge step in his last regular-season game toward becoming an All-Big Ten first-team selection.
“Just trying to get to my spot and be aggressive. Do anything to win,” Young said. “I’m not really worried about my personal stats if we didn’t get the win. So, it’s just a tough loss.”
2. Donta Scott and Hakim Hart struggled. Scott and Hart combined for four points on 1-for-10 shooting Sunday. Scott didn’t hit a field goal and Hart had five turnovers. Both players played more than 32 minutes, and their lack of contribution — especially as Penn State came back — hurt the Terps on the road.
3. It’s time for the postseason. The regular season is over, which means the Big Ten Tournament starts this week in Chicago. With the loss, Maryland will not be a top-four seed. There are a few games that need to be played out before the seeds and matchups are locked in, but Maryland blew its chance at a double-bye and will be playing in the second round on Thursday.