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Maryland basketball’s rebounding struggles led to narrow defeat vs. Michigan State

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The Terps lost the battle of the boards by 17 in a six-point loss.

Michigan State v Maryland Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Maryland basketball entered the locker room Sunday with a 13-point lead over No. 6 Michigan State. It was gone in five minutes of second-half gameplay.

The Spartans came out of the break on a 20-4 run to take their first lead of the game. They led for the last 11 minutes, with the last tie coming at 48. But Michigan State’s depth and power in the frontcourt made the difference in its 74-68 victory.

Michigan State outrebounded Maryland 46-29, and the Spartans hauled in 19 offensive boards. This led to a 16-7 advantage in second-chance points, which is larger than the margin of the overall game. The Spartan forwards didn’t shoulder the same scoring load they did during the team’s first meeting on Jan. 4—a 30-point Michigan State win—but the second chances created scoring opportunities for everyone else.

“They’re bringing nine or 10 guys at you—big, strong bodies, a little bit different,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said of the Spartans after the game. “You’ve got to want it more. That’s what I told [my team].”

The trio of Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson has been enough for the Spartans in plenty of games this season. One is a potential All-American, another stands 6’8 with the build of a propane tank, and the other has the best chance of the three to be selected in the lottery of the upcoming draft. They combined for 29 rebounds, or exactly as many as Maryland’s entire team.

In Jackson, the Spartans possess a weapon who has only been held back by foul trouble in two games against Maryland. He made five three-pointers in the first meeting, then scored 12 points on just six shots amidst a battle with foul trouble Sunday. Even though Michigan State was able to play most of the second half without him, he essentially sealed the victory with an effortless swat of Anthony Cowan’s driving layup in the final minute.

“I mean, how long is the guy’s arms? He was at the top of the key, are you serious?” Turgeon said. “Give him credit. He’s going to be an NBA all-star someday. It was a big-time play.”

Maryland’s two most reliable big men, Bruno Fernando and Michal Cekovsky, were simultaneously fighting foul trouble once again against the Spartans. With 8:18 remaining, each had four personal fouls. The Terps spent much of the afternoon in a four-guard lineup, which can work against many teams but leaves them woefully undersized against Michigan State.

Allowing 19 offensive rebounds isn’t just a size issue, though; it’s a positioning and hustle issue, as well. Maryland only had 20 defensive boards, and it’s rare for those figures to be so close to each other. Michigan State had five offensive boards between the 4:57 and 1:16 marks, each one making a Terrapin comeback that much tougher.

“The last two minutes of the game, it just seemed like they wanted it a little but more. They had three huge offensive rebounds and took bad shots when they got the offensive rebound and just got them right back,” Huerter said. “Those are little things. If you want to be a good team, you have to make those plays.”

Instead, it was another squandered opportunity. The Terps are 4-6 in the Big Ten and have lost four of five contests; they had chances in each of their last three defeats, including holding double-digit halftime leads over ranked opponents in two of them. To lose this one at home when a win would have changed the season’s outlook will sting for a while.

“A team that good, top 10, preseason No. 1 [in the conference], probably going to be top-five for the rest of the year or something like that—we got them on our home floor down 13 at the half,” Huerter said. “It’s something that we need to win.”