For a brief moment on Thursday night, Maryland basketball looked like a worthy challenger to No. 1 Michigan State. But those notions were dispelled as the evening drew on, as the Spartans came away with a 91-61 victory in East Lansing.
The Terps traded blows with the nation’s top team early on, but a 15-0 Michigan State run at the end of the first half broke the game open, and Maryland didn’t have the firepower to claw its way back. As the Spartans saddled Bruno Fernando and Michal Cekovsky with foul trouble from the late first half onward, Maryland’s glimmers of hope drifted away.
Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter were on their game, leading the Terps with 26 and 16 points, respectively. They didn’t get much help, though. No other Maryland player reached double figures, and the team as a whole shot under 38 percent. With their best bigs on the bench far too often, the Terps lost the rebounding battle 34-27.
On the other end, Michigan State’s frontcourt of Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward was unstoppable. All three scored at least 15 points; Ward led with 16 and Jackson’s points came on 5-of-6 shooting from deep. The Spartans shot 58 percent as a group, including a stunning 16-of-28 mark from three-point range.
Maryland also regressed to its mean in the turnover department. After committing just five turnovers against Penn State, Maryland had five in the first nine minutes Thursday; the Terps finished the evening with 12, including seven in the first half. Michigan State, whose weak link has been giveaways all season, kept its total at seven for the game.
The first few minutes featured a three-point barrage, as Maryland made its first three attempts and Michigan State drained seven of its first eight. Neither team gained much separation in the early stages, as no lead was larger than five for the first 15 minutes. Then, after the score was tied at 29, Matt McQuaid hit consecutive threes and the Spartans led by eight at the under-four media timeout; the run stretched to 15-0.
Michigan State’s bigs got the Terps in foul trouble late in the first half. By the five-minute mark, Michal Cekovsky and Bruno Fernando had both picked up a pair of fouls, forcing Sean Obi and Joshua Tomaic into their highest-leverage minutes of the season. Cekovsky came back with the Spartans on their 8-0 run and picked up his third foul with over three minutes on the clock.
Maryland entered the locker room trailing 44-32, as Michigan State’s 15-0 run spanned nearly five minutes before Cowan snapped it with a three. Huerter led all scorers with 14 first-half points, while his fellow sophomore tallied nine.
Fernando picked up his third foul in the early minutes of the second half, joining Cekovsky on the bench. By the 13:52 mark, they both had four. Michigan State kept pulling away, and Maryland didn’t help itself by shooting 28 percent from the field after halftime. The Spartans’ lead reached 20 with over 14 minutes left and stretched as high as 32. Cekovsky fouled out with 8:29 remaining.
The loss drops Maryland to 13-4 this season and 2-2 in the Big Ten; both conference losses are against teams currently ranked in the top 15. The Terps will play their third game in six days Sunday when they return home to face Iowa.
Three things to know
1. The foul trouble caused so much actual trouble. Everything turned toward Michigan State once both Fernando and Cekovsky picked up their second fouls, and the Spartans wasted no time handing them their third and fourth personals. Obi and Tomaic couldn’t hang with Michigan State’s bigs, who dominated all evening.
2. The sophomore backcourt kept Maryland in it for a while. Cowan and Huerter will need to shoulder the load throughout conference play, and they didn’t shy away from the big stage Thursday night. The duo combined for 42 of the team’s 61 points and 13 of its 20 made field goals. For Maryland to compete throughout Big Ten play, though, it’ll need more than two players to show up.
3. Michigan State is just that good. The Spartans are the No. 1 team in the country for several reasons. The likes of Bridges, Jackson and Nick Ward will give any team in the country fits, and they’re even harder to guard without Justin Jackson around. The Terps, undermanned and all, were dead even with the Spartans for 15 minutes, and they’ll leave East Lansing with things to be proud of and more to work on.