CHICAGO — Mark Turgeon couldn’t say where it all went wrong.
The Maryland basketball head coach said his team had a great week of practice ahead of the Big Ten tournament. But when the No. 5-seed Terps took the floor Thursday afternoon, they never looked right. They trailed No. 13-seed Nebraska for 33:15 out of 40 minutes, ultimately falling 69-61. It’s Maryland’s third straight one-and-done showing in the conference tournament.
“We weren’t in it today. We just didn’t play well. I can’t explain it,” Turgeon said. “I’m disappointed, players are disappointed. We just did not have it. Couldn’t get it going, and if we did for a minute or two, we couldn’t sustain it.”
Maryland’s slow starts have been an Achilles’ heels all season, and those are finally proving costly. The Terps found themselves down 42-20 at halftime against Penn State after completely unraveling on both ends. Thursday’s first half against the Huskers was a similar story on offense, as Maryland was held to just 20 points yet again. This time, though, the halftime deficit was just 12, and there was a sliver of a chance if the Terps could warm up.
Indeed, they were more competent offensively in the second half. Maryland made a 9-0 run early to trim a 14-point lead to five. But even with a few more runs after that, the Terps never got closer. Nebraska countered every single time.
“That was kinda heartbreaking—not heartbreaking, but ... deflating,” sophomore guard Darryl Morsell said. “We were making plays to cut into the lead, and then boom, they hit a big shot; boom, they get an offensive rebound or something like that.”
The losing recipe was a blend of recurring and inexplicable shortcomings. The poor shooting and the backbreaking offensive rebounds have been a common theme in Maryland’s losses. Bruno Fernando’s utter disappearance, on the other hand, was stunning, as the First Team All-Big Ten center had just three points on four shots in 35 minutes.
Now, Maryland is a couple bad bounces away from its season crashing down. The Terps won’t have to worry about making the NCAA Tournament, but they’ll probably be a seed line lower after this performance. And a performance like Thursday’s is certainly a knock on the team’s confidence.
“I think every basketball player goes into a game expecting to win and having confidence that they are going to win,” freshman guard Aaron Wiggins said. “We, of course, had the same confidence. We just didn’t come out and show it. We didn’t play with the same confidence, we didn’t play with the same energy and that’s something that we can’t do.”
Turgeon has a week to find some of the answers he didn’t have Thursday. Maryland still hasn’t won a postseason game since 2016, and an audible frustration in the fan base has bubbled back up over the last two weeks. A first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament would only amplify all of that. It’d leave an incredibly promising season with virtually no payoff.
Maryland is 7-2 after losses this year, and knows it can’t afford another slip-up. Only time will tell if the Terps can respond again.
“We’ve bounced back all year in a lot of situations. So I plan for us to do the same thing,” Turgeon said. “We’re going to have extra practices now, obviously, that we didn’t want. I think the game experience probably would have been a little better for us than practices.
“We’ll be excited. We’re going to be real excited when our name pops up. Whoever it is [playing us] is going to be a really good team, and we’re going to have to play better than we did today to have a chance to win.”