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Maryland basketball showed familiar problems in loss at Wisconsin, and can’t let them linger

The Terps have struggled closing halves and in the turnover department, and it’s cost them.

Maryland v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Maryland men’s basketball fell to Wisconsin Friday night, 69-61, despite holding the lead for nearly 28 of 40 minutes. Six minutes were spent tied, and Wisconsin led for a little under six minutes.

The Terps never led by double digits, and their last opportunity to do so turned into all the momentum the Badgers needed. Back-to-back three-pointers near the end of the first half from Eric Ayala and Anthony Cowan Jr. put Maryland up 36-27 with 3:16 left in the half. But Cowan’s triple would be Maryland’s last score of the half, while the Badgers would score just a single Ethan Happ free throw until the final seconds of the half. Leading 36-28 with the period running, Ayala sent a lazy pass that got intercepted and went the other way for a Brevin Pritzl three to cut Wisconsin’s halftime deficit to five.

At the time, it felt like a momentum swinger, and sure enough, it gave the Badgers confidence coming out of the break. Moreover, the sequence underscored some of Maryland’s troubles—the Terps need to end halves better. They were still able to do just enough to hold onto the lead for most of the final half. Another set of back-to-back triples from Ayala and Cowan gave Maryland a little life and some breathing room, but two Wisconsin threes tied it for the second time in the half. The Badgers took the lead with a little over six minutes left, and used a 12-1 run to go up 66-56 and wrap up the game.

It’s not the first time this has happened to the Terps this season. The first time Maryland and Wisconsin matched up, the Badgers erased a 21-point deficit and took the lead until a Cowan three let the Terps escape with a win. Playing Illinois at Madison Square Garden, the Terps seemingly dominated the first half, but found themselves up only four at the break. The Illini turned the tide after halftime and won by double digits.

There’s a few common threads in each game. One is stellar second half three-point shooting from Maryland’s opponents in each case. Wisconsin went an absurd 11-of-22 from deep in the second half of the first matchup to erase Maryland’s lead. After going 2-of-9 (22 percent) in the first half at MSG, the Illini nailed 6-of-14 (42.9 percent) triples as they took control of the second half. It happened again Friday, as the Badgers turned around a 3-of-8 first half showing from deep to go 6-of-10 on threes in the final period.

The two games the Terps lost, they also struggled to control the transition game. In Maryland’s first matchup against the Badgers, each team had 13 points off turnovers. In each of the losses the Terps lost that battle, getting outscored 27-14 and 22-13 in points off turnovers to Illinois and Wisconsin, respectively.

Maryland’s schedule just gets more difficult down the stretch, and if the team starts to slide, it'll play its way out of contention for a double-bye in the conference tournament. Next up, Maryland has a road matchup with Nebraska. Last time it took a come-from-behind victory to put the Cornhuskers away, which gave Maryland its second win in what would become a seven-game win streak.

Wednesday’s contest will start Maryland on another stretch of conference games that could start on the wrong foot if the Terps can't limit their opponents’ outside shots or their own turnovers. With Isaac Copeland Jr. out for the rest of the season, the paint should open up a bit for Bruno Fernando. But if the Terps can't keep their turnovers down, it'll complicate things, and if Maryland can't run its opponent off the arc in the second half, it probably won’t matter.