Despite commanding nearly the entire game at Penn State, No. 21 Maryland men’s basketball saw its road woes return fast in a last-second 65-64 loss.
The Terps built their lead to as high as 16 points, but a ferocious Penn State comeback had them stuck in the mud. Penn State outscored Maryland 17-5 in the final five minutes.
Seth Lundy’s game-winning 3-pointer caromed off the rim, but Camren Wynter was left all alone for the offensive rebound. Wynter’s layup sunk through the nylon with 0.5 seconds left, lifting Penn State to the improbable comeback win and strengthening its position to make the NCAA Tournament.
“Obviously we’re disappointed,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said. “Frustrated and angry because we’ve worked hard and we’ve battled on the road. We just haven’t been able to finish to be honest with you.”
Let’s dive into three takeaways from the agonizing Maryland loss.
Maryland weathered the first four minutes, producing a perfect first half on the road.
Penn State inched to a 10-4 lead in the first four minutes, hitting four of its first six shots while Maryland made one of its first six attempts.
The Maryland fan’s mindset probably read something along the lines of, “oh no, here we go again.” With shades of poor starts in, well, every previous Big Ten road game sans Minnesota this season, the Maryland faithful should have had every reason to be doubtful.
Whatever was said during the under-16 media timeout flipped a switch. Spearheaded by sophomore forward Julian Reese and graduate guard Jahmir Young, Maryland rattled off a 10-0 run to grab its first lead. Penn State regained the lead at 15-14 with 12:45 remaining in the first half, but that was the last it would have until the final minute.
Senior guard Hakim Hart drilled a transition triple to give the Terps a 17-15 lead, starting a destructive 14-0 run. Young smoothly sunk two free throws after Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry was charged with a technical foul, and junior guard Ian Martinez hit three 3-pointers in a row to give the Terps a 28-15 lead.
As the Terps buried the Nittany Lions with 14 straight points, Penn State could get nothing going offensively. The Nittany Lions went eight minutes and 43 seconds between scores, as the Terps did a masterful job matching up and forcing turnovers, which Penn State had nine of in the first half.
Maryland seemed to be heading into halftime with a 16-point lead, but a desperation 3-pointer from Jalen Pickett, which ended up being a key difference in the final score, cut the deficit to 35-22 at the break.
Regardless, for Maryland to be in complete control of the first 20 minutes marked a total reversal of past road woes, a welcome change with only neutral-site games ahead.
Though four starters scored in double digits, Maryland didn’t get enough from Hakim Hart and Donta Scott.
For the majority of Sunday’s game, Young was phenomenal. He finished the game with 26 points, his most in a road game this season. The Terps’ star point guard shot 9-of-17 (3-of-6 from deep) and grabbed eight boards in 35 minutes. Young missed his last three field goal attempts, but the Terps would not have been in position to lead for more than 32 minutes without him.
“Jahmir was phenomenal,” Willard said. “I thought he played under control. They were trapping his pick and rolls, they were switching his pick and rolls. I thought he stayed aggressive and gave us a chance to win.”
Carey also continued his recent hot stretch with 11 points, his fourth straight game with at least 10. Carey seems to be hitting his stride — both in confidence and output — at the most important time of the year. Martinez also poured in 11 points, his fifth double-digit game of the year.
Reese — who only played 21 minutes, likely due to matchups — scored 12 points and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line. He had the highest plus-minus (+6) of any Terp. Willard said postgame that he wasn’t allowed to substitute Reese in for the last play of the game.
“I feel like Juju’s trending in the right direction,” Young said. “He’s growing in front of eyes.”
Though Maryland received meaningful offensive contributions from four different players, two of its most important pieces flopped.
Hart’s first-half fast-break triple produced his only points of the game. Hart finished 1-for-5 from the field and turned the ball over five times in 34 minutes. Hart was in position to secure the game-sealing rebound, but he collided with Young, allowing the perfect bounce into the hands of Wynter for the layup.
Senior forward Donta Scott, Hart’s four-year teammate, scored just one point and missed all five of his shot attempts. Scott had two assists and zero turnovers, but he was mainly a nonfactor in Maryland’s offensive success.
If Maryland wants to win games in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, it will need more from its two wily veterans.
Maryland’s second-half collapse put the cherry on top of its road struggles.
For as surefire as it seemed, as rewarding as it would have been and the positive implications that would have resulted from it, the same story remained true: Maryland could not win on the road.
The Terps seemed destined to exhaust their away woes Sunday, controlling the majority of the game at Bryce Jordan Center, which was, and will remain, a house of horrors for Maryland. Instead, Maryland fell flat, closing its Big Ten road slate at a dismal 1-9.
“They was hitting shots in the second half,” Carey said. “First half I think they only, they made three threes, and I don’t know how many they made in the second half, but that was the biggest difference, really, is shot-making.”
Maryland’s only two road wins of its 2022-23 campaign came against 4-27 Louisville (KenPom No. 285) and 8-20 Minnesota (KenPom No. 222). In three neutral-site games, the Terps have blowout wins over Saint Louis and ACC champion Miami and a three-point loss to Tennessee, but Dec. 11 was the last time they played on a neutral floor.
“No, we’ve played well neutral,” Willard said when asked about the cause of concern moving forward. “Beat Miami by 30, we beat Saint Louis by 30 and lost [by] three [to] Tennessee neutral. ... Tough to win on the road in this conference. We had, last four road games we’ve had our chances, we just haven’t been able to finish them.”
The stakes Sunday were simple: win and secure a double-bye, or lose and play on Thursday. If the Terps were to get the job done and secure a top-four seed, its previous eight road losses would have been forgiven, even the Feb. 19 breakdown at Nebraska and Wednesday’s road loss at an underwhelming, under-.500 Ohio State team.
Maryland will make the NCAA Tournament, and it will in all likelihood have a single-digit seed. Let’s not forget the magnitude of what Willard and this team have accomplished, turning a projected 10th-place team into a postseason lock. The positive moments were there this regular season — including landmark home wins against Purdue and Illinois — but it certainly ended sour.
“It’s very simple. Single elimination, it’s a whole different time of year,” Willard said. “It’s what sports is all about. You got to be able to bounce back. If you can’t bounce back, you shouldn’t be playing sports.”
The Terps’ Big Ten Tournament run will start Thursday in Chicago. Their seeding and opponent remains to be determined.
In sports, your last impression is always more important than your first. This Maryland season will be remembered as successful no matter what, but it remains to be seen just how fruitful it will be with the team away from home.