Washington, D.C. — After Melo Trimble’s buzzer-beater gave Maryland basketball a victory over Michigan State on Senior Day, players roared when coach Mark Turgeon mentioned they’d only have to take a short trip to the Verizon Center for the conference tournament.
The atmosphere in D.C. was exactly what Turgeon and his players hoped for. Fans cheered even when Trimble made an appearance just to watch Wisconsin’s win over Indiana. Dressed in red and yellow, the crowd demolished referees who dared to make questionable calls against the Terps.
Then they watched their team lose, 72-64, to Northwestern in its first game of the tournament Friday night.
“We were expecting to be here all weekend, and it kinda stinks going back,” freshman Kevin Huerter told reporters after the game. “I don’t really think the rest is going to help us. We were expecting to go in and hopefully play for three days, and now we’re not.”
This was the friendliest environment Maryland will ever face in a neutral site game. Fans yelled “you suck” at opposing players during pregame introductions. Scott Van Pelt summoned Maryland fans when spotlighted on the jumbotron. Fans rained cascades of boos at the referees during various junctures of the game.
“It was a really fun atmosphere, to be honest,” Huerter said. “Coming in, especially in warmups, you can feel it. I think we were a little, not overwhelmed, but we weren’t expecting how big a crowd it was. And we’ve really great fans. It’s nothing [on] them.”
A loss to Northwestern isn’t the end of the world for the Terps, but it isn’t a great sign. Maryland couldn’t beat a team it was favored over in what was basically a home game. Now, Trimble and a young Maryland team have only the NCAA Tournament to look forward to.
“It really was a great crowd,” freshman Justin Jackson said. “Shoutout to the Maryland fans for coming out and supporting us. Sorry we didn’t come out with the win, but I really appreciate the crowd.”
The Terps led by two points at halftime after Gill hit a buzzer-beating turnaround jumper, but Northwestern shut Maryland down after that, while clicking offensively as the Verizon Center got progressively quieter and emptier. The Wildcats were able to avenge their loss to the Terps from earlier this season by shooting 55 percent from the field and holding Maryland to just 47 percent.
“That was definitely one of the better games they’ve played all year,” Gill said. “Northwestern did a great job tonight. Gotta give them credit.”
Maryland was felled by some familiar foes. The team endured long stretches without a field goal in both the first and second halves. Maryland’s reserves accounted for just six points, and only scored one bucket in the second half. A lack of bench production for a team that saw its bench outscored Ohio State 33-4 earlier this season was unexpected.
Melo Trimble led Maryland with 20 points. He and freshmen Huerter and Anthony Cowan scored all but 12 of Maryland’s 64 points on Friday night. Trimble had a chance to win in front of his home crowd for perhaps one final weekend. Northwestern made sure he just didn’t get enough help.
“They took us out of our offense all game,” Trimble said. “We wasn’t able to run anything that we practiced. Just wasn’t sharp on our cuts. We really wasn’t playing smart at all. A lot of turnovers — I had six. Just mental mistakes, and we wasn’t playing smart.
“It hurts. The crowd was really good today, a lot of them there. You would’ve thought it was a home game for us. Unfortunately we wasn’t able to win.”
Maryland’s next loss will be its last this season, and the Terps won’t get to take a leisurely drive down to D.C. for their next game. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects them to start their NCAA Tournament run as a No. 10-seed in Greenville, South Carolina against Vanderbilt. Wherever they play, it’s not going to be close to home.
Maryland won’t officially find out its fate until Sunday, when the field of 68 is announced after two teams that aren’t Maryland battle for the Big Ten Championship.
“This should all motivate us to do better next week,” Trimble said. “We’re gonna find out where we go Sunday and get back to the drawing board on Monday.”
“It’s just disappointing,” Huerter said, “because this is something we were really excited for.”