NEW YORK — Maryland basketball’s trip to the Big Apple ended nearly as soon as it began, thanks to a five-point loss to Wisconsin on Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten tournament.
There were stellar defensive efforts on both sides, but if you were looking for offense, it wouldn’t be found here. While neither team ever led by double digits, the slow pace, along with a rebounding and free throw disparity in favor of the Badgers, made every three- or five-point Wisconsin lead feel like twice the amount.
This was a completely different kind of ugly than the first matchup between these teams on Feb. 4. While that game was plagued by fouls and, to a lesser extent, turnovers, this was a grind-it-out halfcourt match that fit more cleanly with Wisconsin’s profile.
“I felt like we were fighting uphill all night. ... We fouled too darn much and we couldn’t get a rebound,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said.
It wasn’t a three-point shooting affair; both teams hit a combined five of their 32 shots from distance. Wisconsin also didn’t outshoot Maryland, in fact the opposite is true; the Terps shot 44 percent on 50 attempts, while the Badgers hit 36 percent with equal attempts. Wisconsin made Maryland work for every point and every change of possession. While a 24-9 free throw disparity made a significant difference, the bigger story may lie in the 12 offensive rebounds Maryland surrendered.
“We were more aggressive on the glass, did a better job rebounding. And obviously getting to the free-throw line was big,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said. “When you get to the foul line and you’re a little better defensively ... your odds shoot back in your favor.”
Despite the circumstances, Maryland was very much in it in the final three minutes. Bruno Fernando completed a slow climb back into the game to tie it at 47. Kevin Huerter would then come up with an answer for Wisconsin on three straight possessions to keep it tied at 53. Despite all of the Terps’ late game woes this season, this game “felt different,” Huerter said.
With the game tied and just over a minute and a half remaining, Maryland had multiple chances to limit Wisconsin to a single possession and get the ball back with some momentum. Instead, the Terps allowed two offensive boards off deep three-point attempts, extending the play and allowing Brevin Pritzl to hit a fadeaway jumper for the lead.
On the other end, Huerter would get two free throws for the chance to tie the game again. Right before he took his first shot, though, there was a disturbance from Ethan Happ in the lane delaying the shot. After both teams would briefly enter a huddle while it was dealt with, Huerter missed the first free throw out of the huddle, leaving Maryland down 55-54 with 8.5 seconds left.
“I was getting taken out of rhythm,” Huerter said, “but that’s not an excuse for missing.”
Then, down three with one last shot to tie it, the Terps bungled the inbounds play. Without a timeout, Dion Wiley had to try to force it into a covered Huerter with a five-second call looming. The pass was intercepted by Khalil Iverson to end it.
Turgeon later came out to the podium and took the blame for the loss, as he’s done time and again this season. But Huerter took the stage and came to the defense of his head coach.
“Coach Turgeon doesn’t miss rebounds. Coach Turgeon doesn’t miss a free throw. Coach Turgeon doesn’t throw the ball away. Coach Turgeon doesn’t [not] execute plays when we’re supposed to execute plays that we practiced multiple times,” Huerter said. “This loss is on everybody, especially the players, because we didn’t make the plays in the last minute [and] 12 seconds to win the game. So everyone can say what they want about him, but we didn’t make plays for him.”
With Maryland’s shot at a Big Ten tournament title, and its last hope for an NCAA Tournament berth, finished, the Terps will now have to wait 10 days for an NIT draw. Huerter said the team hasn’t begun to think about that reality yet, but there’s nothing else left to do.