Maryland basketball led Nebraska 64-51 with six minutes to go against Nebraska on Sunday. Everything was rolling for the Terps, who were on the brink of starting Big Ten play 2-0 and erasing doubts left over from an easy nonconference schedule.
After a shaky first half, everything was going their way.
The Terps took a 48-47 lead on Melo Trimble’s three with 11:42 to go. Then they scored 13 points in a row. When a Damonte Dodd free throw made it 65-53 with six minutes to go, everyone watching was ready to chalk it up as a win.
“The game was almost over. It practically was over,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon told reporters after the game.
So how’d it turn into a 67-65 loss?
“I told our guys in the meeting yesterday, ‘You gotta knock Nebraska out.’ They keep coming,” Turgeon said. “We never knocked them out.”
65-53 became 65-60 real fast.
“We just stopped executing on offense,” Kevin Huerter said. “We didn’t get the shots we wanted and we weren’t getting stops at the defensive end.”
Maryland missed its final nine shots, and looked out of sync.
“They cut it from 13 to five way too quick,” Turgeon said.
After Dodd’s free throw, Nebraska narrowed the lead to seven in just over two minutes. The Cornhuskers narrowed it to 65-60 with two more free throws. There was still 3:19 left in the game.
“They got a lot of offensive rebounds,” Huerter said. “They got multiple shots on every possession, it seemed like. And they seemed to hit a lot of tough layups, and when they missed they got tip-ins.”
He’s right. Nebraska got six offensive rebounds to Maryland’s three in those last six minutes.
Tai Webster brought Nebraska over the hump.
Maryland was still in a favorable spot. The Terps had a five-point lead with over three minutes of game time left. They’ve been in the reverse of that situation several times this season and come out on top.
Webster scored the game’s final seven points, using an array of tricky layups to steal the attention away from Huerter, who had a career-high 26 points.
Maryland had two chances at the end to tie or take the lead, but couldn’t capitalize.
Anthony Cowan drove into the lane and dished to Trimble, who had a shot at an open three-pointer, with 4.7 seconds left. Trimble’s made those kind of shots before, but couldn’t make this one fall.
“I thought the guys really executed when we were down two and got Melo a good-look three,” Turgeon said. “I would rather go to the rim and tie it and go to overtime, hopefully be better against the zone in overtime. But Melo had an open look. He’s made a lot of those for us.”
The Terps kept the ball, but couldn’t get their final play going. What resulted was a desperation heave by Trimble that didn’t have much of a chance.
“We just didn’t execute it the right way. It was either a lob or an iso to Melo, and we just never got to it.”
And just like that, the Terrapins had dropped only their second game at Xfinity Center since joining the Big Ten. There was one problem that stood out above the rest.
Maryland didn’t score for the last six minutes of game time.
This all could have been solved if Maryland was able to put the ball in the hoop. Just one time. If the Terps made just one of their nine shots from the field in those final six minutes, they would have been victors.
“At about six-minute mark, we started to play a bit slower and couldn’t put the stops together,” Turgeon said.
His players couldn’t navigate through the Huskers’ 1-3-1 zone, and rarely got inside. When they did get layups, they couldn’t convert.
“The 1-3-1, we didn’t work on it enough. That’s 100 percent on me there,” Turgeon said. “We got some good looks, got a few layups against it and just couldn’t finish.”
The game was some familiar medicine for the Terps. They’ve usually been the ones administering last-minute comebacks this season. But on New Year’s Day against Nebraska, they couldn’t get it done.