Maryland basketball’s brutal January reached its conclusion Wednesday, as No. 3 Purdue handed the Terps their third straight loss and dropped them to 4-7 in Big Ten play.
This looked like a blowout in the early going, but Maryland rolled with the punches and stayed tough for the majority of the game. After Purdue led by as many as 15 points in the first half, the Terps slashed the margin to three in the middle of the second half. Still, the Boilermakers had too much firepower, pulling away down the stretch for a 75-67 win.
The Terps’ faint hopes of an upset took one more hit before the game, as senior center Michal Cekovsky injured his left heel in practice and didn’t even travel to the game. Instead, the Terps started Bruno Fernando at the five and surrounded him with four guards in its 14th different starting lineup this season.
Fernando responded with one of his best performances of the season, tallying 20 points and 10 rebounds. He also slowed down Purdue center Isaac Haas at times, but the 7’2 behemoth senior would get his eventually, notching 20 points and eight boards. Carsen Edwards added 17 points for the Boilermakers, while Kevin Huerter (16), Darryl Morsell (13) and Anthony Cowan Jr. (11) reached double figures for Maryland.
The teams were inexplicably even on the boards, each grabbing 33 rebounds. Given Purdue’s size, Cekovsky’s absence Maryland coming off a minus-17 in this category against Michigan State, it’s a stunning stat. The Terps’ hustle kept them in it when everything else was going against them.
Purdue started the evening on a 9-0 run as Maryland missed its first six shots. The lead reached double-digits after just nine minutes; at that point, the Terps had more turnovers than points. Maryland spent most of the first half down by double figures, but was lucky to hold Purdue to 12-of-34 shooting—35 percent—in the period. The Boilermakers entered halftime with a 35-24 lead, but it could have been significantly more lopsided.
Fernando scored the first five points of the second half to make it a six-point game, and the Terps were able to keep it in single digits for a while after that. Morsell, who scored two points in the first period, had eight in just six minutes after the break. Maryland inexplicably kept it close until the 9:10 mark, when Huerter hit his second three in as many possessions to make it a 55-52 game.
But the fouls piled up quickly in the second half, as Fernando and Huerter had three and Obi had four by the 16-minute mark. Fernando picked up his fourth at the under-12 timeout. Obi fouled out with 10:09 remaining; he did so without attempting a shot or free throw in eight minutes played. With so many whistles, it was only a matter of time before Purdue pulled away.
Matt Painter called time after Huerter’s triple made it a three-point game, and Purdue immediately went on a 7-0 run to regain a double-digit lead. Maryland wouldn’t get closer than six after that, and a gutsy performance still came up short in the end.
The Terps return home for a Sunday afternoon bout with Wisconsin. At 4-7 in the conference, they’ve got plenty of ground to make up.
Three things to know
1. This wasn’t as ugly as it could have been. Maryland was shorthanded and facing a nightmare matchup even before losing Cekovsky. It didn’t help that Fernando and Obi were both in serious foul trouble by the early second half. But the Terps defended well against the nation’s No. 3 team and kept the margin closer than expected with as short a deck as ever. Even though it’s still a loss, the outlook for the near future looks slightly more positive.
2. The turnovers are back. Ball security was Maryland’s biggest issue early in the season, with a seven-giveaway performance against Purdue on Dec. 1 the exception rather than the rule. On Wednesday, the Terps had eight turnovers in the first 10 minutes alone; even with an impressive second half controlling the ball, they finished with 13. Giveaways haven’t been as much of a problem recently, so Maryland will have to hope it was just a bad stretch in a tough environment.
3. Now it’s time to somehow get hot. Maryland’s first 11 Big Ten games were about as tough as they could have possibly been, as the Terps have matched up six times against the league’s four best teams, including twice against Purdue and Michigan State. February looks comparably like a breeze, as none of the Terps’ next six games are against ranked teams and the last one is against No. 24 Michigan at home. They’ve put themselves in a spot where they might need to run the table to make their fourth straight NCAA Tournament.