Maryland basketball’s postseason case in 2017 was aided more than anything else by its strong play on the road. One year later, chronic struggles away from home are on track to keep the Terps out of the NCAA Tournament.
Monday’s three-point loss at Indiana dropped Maryland’s road record to 1-5 this season, and the Terps have lost four straight away games. They’ve been blown out twice—by No. 6 Michigan State and No. 13 Ohio State—but the other three losses have been decided by a combined six points, and they can’t keep squandering such opportunities.
The Terps’ first road game of the year was the 72-70 loss to Syracuse in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Nov. 27. Turnovers sealed that one. Maryland was seconds away from knocking off then-No. 23 Michigan on Jan. 15, but its defense botched the paramount inbounds play and the Wolverines won the game at the line. On Monday, it was a little of everything, from sloppy turnovers to Indiana’s offensive rebound on a missed free throw to Anthony Cowan forcing a long three before such was necessary (he shot 2-of-12 in the second half).
All three contests were against talented teams in difficult road venues. But coming away empty each time leaves a gaping hole in Maryland’s résumé.
Instead, the Terps’ only road win remains the overtime thriller against Illinois. And even in that contest, Maryland watched a 22-point lead turn into what seemed like a surefire loss. Illinois still doesn’t have a Big Ten victory.
Maryland went 7-2 on the road in conference play last season, including wins in Ann Arbor and Columbus. That mark allowed the Terps to overcome multiple discouraging losses and earn a No. 6 seed in the Tournament. This year, they’ll finish with a losing road record unless they win their last four away games. In a weaker Big Ten that could earn as few as four NCAA bids, every defeat snatched from the jaws of victory hurts that much more.
Injuries haven’t helped. Maryland lost Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender for the season in late December, leaving just nine scholarship players. Bruno Fernando left the Indiana game with an apparent ankle injury and didn’t return; his status for future games remains uncertain. Even with such limited depth, though, Maryland is giving itself chances to win. That’s commendable, but doesn’t matter in the standings.
At the halfway point of Big Ten play, it’s no longer too early start thinking about what Maryland needs to do to reach its fourth straight NCAA Tournament. Most bracketologists had the Terps outside the field even before losing to Indiana, and Monday’s loss is a big blow. Maryland has played 22 games and earned just one win over a top-70 RPI team (Butler at home in November). It’s had other chances, but a 2-5 record in games decided by five or fewer points has caused severe damage.
This narrative will change significantly if the Terps can knock off Michigan State on Sunday or win at Purdue on Jan. 31, but both seem like unreasonable asks for a shorthanded team that now has to worry about another Fernando ankle injury. After these games, Maryland’s February schedule consists mostly of underachieving conference foes, so “quality wins” will be much tougher to come by.
Maryland’s tournament hopes haven’t evaporated yet, but another crushing road loss has the Terps in more trouble than ever.