Depth was always destined to doom Maryland men’s basketball against Michigan State. However, through 15 minutes of the game, the score stood tied at 29.
The next five minutes would see the No. 1 Spartans end the half on a 15-3 run, and the game would end in a 30-point Terps loss, but let’s focus on that first 15 for a second.
Maryland would punch, and Michigan State never failed to counterpunch. Kevin Huerter was going shot-for-shot with Spartans heavyweight Miles Bridges, and for a while it seemed as if Maryland could keep up with the nation’s best.
Hot shooting kept the Terps in it.
For Maryland, Sticking with the Spartans early was as much about keeping up in the scoring column as it was trying to get a stop on the other end. The Terps were able to trade baskets early because they hit their shots, starting the game shooting 12-of-19 from the field and 4-of-7 from deep.
Huerter had 14 of Maryland’s first 27, turning isolation drives into and-ones, and hitting three of his first four attempts from behind the arc. His first-half performance culminated in a deep three-pointer to give Maryland a 27-26 lead with 7:48 left.
MAMA, THERE GOES THAT MAN! pic.twitter.com/8R5bYjTVb4— The Eagles should sign Colin Kaepernick (@im_lamar) January 5, 2018
That would be the last time the Terps held a lead in this one. Maryland led for all of 4:44 in the game, all in the first half. A free throw from Bridges and a layup from Nick Ward put Michigan State ahead, before Anthony Cowan added two more to his eventual game-high 26 points to tie the game at 29.
Anthony Cowan how do you do it? pic.twitter.com/FLIca5zpm6— The Eagles should sign Colin Kaepernick (@im_lamar) January 5, 2018
Maryland largely went cold after that. The Terps would go just 8-of-34 from the field and 4-of-13 from three-point land for the rest of the game, good for shooting percentages of .235 and .308, respectively.
Huerter scored just two points in the last 25 minutes, so Cowan was left to shoulder the scoring load alone. He’d add 16 points to his total during that same time span, but one player does not a giant-killer make.
Foul trouble took them right out of it.
Playing two seven-footers at the same time comes with a natural issue. If the big men are not naturally quick defenders, they tend to pick up fouls easier.
A key reason for Maryland’s success playing the 6’10 Bruno Fernando next to 7’0 Michal Cekovsky against Penn State was that both stayed out of foul trouble. Jaren Jackson and Ward provided nearly the perfect counter. Jackson forced Fernando to guard out to the three-point line on every play, while Ward was just too strong for Cekovsky to deal with.
Two early fouls apiece against Michigan State had each riding the pine with five minutes left in the half. Fernando would finish the game with seven points, seven rebounds and four fouls in 23 minutes, while Cekovsky added just two points while fouling out in just 11 minutes of burn.
With Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender injured, Sean Obi and Joshua Tomaic were the only big men left in reserve for Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon. Michigan State is one of the most talented teams in the country, and it shows all through the roster. The Terps were clearly outmatched, and Michigan State went on a 8-0 run to mark the beginning of the end. Michigan State’s bench unit would outscore Maryland’s 27-8 for the game.
Maryland’s first 15 minutes showed the potential to keep up with the No. 1 team in the country if the Terps hit their shots. With their lack of depth at forward, though, the Terps’ key to surviving the Big Ten may lie in Fernando’s and Cekovsky’s ability to stay out of foul trouble.