With 7:37 remaining in Saturday’s loss to Purdue, Maryland point guard Anthony Cowan lobbed the ball up to Michal Cekovsky. The center had to reach back to catch the ball, but he secured it and finished the alley-oop to put the Terps up 58-55.
Maryland didn’t make another field goal after that. The Terps missed their last eight shots, and even with stellar free-throw shooting late, they fell one point short.
“They were great defensively and we couldn’t make a jump shot,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after the game. “They zoned up on the point guard and did a nice job. We didn’t make shots.”
The loss drops Maryland to 20-3 overall and 8-2 in Big Ten play. The team’s only other conference loss came Jan. 1 against Nebraska, when Maryland made its last field goal with 6:43 remaining and missed nine straight shots to finish.
“It was just sort of the same situation, where we couldn’t score and they were making everything,” center Damonte Dodd said.
These lengthy dry spells have plagued the Terps all season, even if they haven’t always been so costly. Maryland was on the wrong end of a 19-1 run against Minnesota, went five minutes in the first half without a field goal against Ohio State, and suffered a four-minute drought in the second half against Illinois, just to name a few instances.
Despite the shooting struggles late, Maryland almost got away with this one thanks to free throws. The Terps scored their last 14 points on 16 free-throw attempts. Melo Trimble, who went just 4-of-15 from the floor, made 11 of his 12 foul shots in the final eight minutes. The star junior kept driving the lane, and with Maryland in the bonus, all he needed to do was draw contact.
“They still got some quality possessions,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “They were getting to the free throw line. Melo [Trimble] was getting there. He had a couple plays in transition that we just couldn’t stop.”
Maryland got Purdue’s bigs in foul trouble, and Caleb Swanigan, who dominated the game with 26 points and 10 boards, fouled out with 56 seconds left. But the Boilermakers pulled ahead in the last minute with four free throws of their own, including two by freshman Carsen Edwards with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Saturday’s game may feel like a collapse, as Maryland led for over 37 minutes in total and was up 12 in the second half before missing 14 of 16 shots to finish. But the two teams were going back-and-forth for essentially the last 10 minutes, and the Terps consistently responded to a Purdue bucket with points of their own. If any one of those possessions unfolded differently, Maryland might have pulled it off.
“It’s a fine line. Everyone gets credit if you win these games, then everybody wants to know what’s wrong [if you lose],” Painter said. “It’s just one possession. Nothing’s wrong with Maryland and nothing’s great about Purdue. It’s competition, it’s two great teams, and we got one more break than they did.”
Maryland’s habit of winning close games has been well-documented. The Terps have had 11 games decided by two possessions at most, and had won nine of the first 10. Saturday’s loss is a stinging reminder of how easily those games can go the other way.
“I told the guys we battled. We flew around. We hustled,” Turgeon said. “They’re hurting in there right now because we played well enough to win. We were one possession away. We know we did some good things. We just have to play a little smarter than we did.”