No. 17 Maryland men’s basketball couldn’t turn around its road struggles on Tuesday night, as it wound up losing to Wisconsin, 56-54, in Madison. The Terps had a chance to pull out a win late, but they couldn’t deliver down the stretch.
Here’s what stood out from the team’s fourth consecutive true road defeat.
1. Late-game execution was terrible
After Nate Reuvers made a turnaround jumper over Darryl Morsell, Maryland had a 54-53 lead with 63 seconds remaining and the ball. Less than 30 seconds earlier, the Terps took a 54-51 advantage on an alley-oop from Anthony Cowan Jr. to Jalen Smith, who had an emphatic slam.
So on the following possession, Cowan went back to the well, but things took a turn for the worse. His pass was picked off by Reuvers, who sent the ball upcourt with 45 seconds remaining. To Maryland’s credit, the defense completely flustered the Badgers’ offense, which couldn’t get anything going before having a shot clock violation.
The miscue gave the Terps the ball under their own basket with 13.6 seconds to play and put them in prime position to ice the game at the free-throw line. But after a disastrous mistake of their own, that opportunity never came.
With a timeout available, Morsell took the inbounds pass and panicked. Nobody got open — there didn’t seem to be anything in the way of a real play design — and forced a pass to Cowan, but junior Brad Davison got in the way and tipped it off Morsell to give Wisconsin possession.
Anybody could have called timeout once it was clear it wasn’t going to be an easy entry, but nobody did. Instead, what should have been a relatively easy situation turned into a potential nightmare. And seconds later, Davison made Maryland’s worst thoughts a reality with a corner three.
With less than 10 seconds to go on the ensuing possession, the Terps seemed without a plan. Down two points, a three-pointer wasn’t necessary, but Cowan forced up a rushed, contested triple anyways as it missed off the side of the rim. Eric Ayala was able to grab an offensive rebound, but it didn’t end up mattering.
“No, no, no, no,” head coach Mark Turgeon said when asked if that was the shot he wanted Cowan to take. “If we had a wide-open three, we were taking it. I was talking about getting it into overtime — trying to get to the rim or get fouled. It wasn’t really what we wanted.
2. The supporting cast was largely absent
On Tuesday night, Maryland got plenty of production from its big three. As per usual, Cowan and Smith led the charge, while the third has been a rotating spot as the season as gone on. Against Wisconsin, Aaron Wiggins filled the role, coming off the bench and breaking out of a slump for a solid performance in multiple facets.
“I just competed all-around,” Wiggins said. “Rebounding, defensively, guarding the ball. Hitting shots when I’m open, just all those little things. I was just more engaged.”
The trio combined for 47 points on 17-of-33 shooting — 7-of-14 from beyond the arc — with 17 rebounds. Time and time again, the Terps turned to arguably their best players, who delivered at seemingly every turn — save for Cowan’s three-point attempt in the closing moments.
However, the rest of the team failed to show up whatsoever. Morsell had his worst game of the season, finishing with two points on a 1-of-5 night from the floor (missing his only triple) with three fouls, four turnovers and zero assists. He was a team-low minus-14, the next worst being Smith at minus-two.
But he wasn’t the only Maryland player to falter. Donta Scott, who has been terrific as a starter in his rookie season, took four shots — all three-pointers — and missed them all, though he did have seven rebounds.
And Eric Ayala, who picked up his first start since Dec. 10, continued his slide, going 1-of-4 on field goals and 0-of-3 on shots beyond the arc. After shooting 40.6 percent on threes as a freshman, he’s down to an abysmal 23.7 percent this season.
On the night, the rest of the Terps aside from Cowan, Smith and Wiggins finished with seven points on a measly 2-of-14 night from the field — 0-of-8 from deep — with nine turnovers to just three assists. If Maryland is going to win going forward, it’ll need a more all-around effort night in and night out.
“It is what it is,” Turgeon said of the lack of scoring distribution. “Donta had some good looks and missed them, Eric didn’t really have a lot of shots. ... It’s just the way it went tonight.”
3. Despite its problems, the team had its best road performance
Don’t mistake this performance for what it was: a losing showing that left a lot to be desired and still leaves a lot of questions as to Maryland’s ability to succeed going forward, especially on the road.
However, unlike their previous three true road affairs, the Terps weren’t completely dominated in every facet. Just a few days ago, they were trampled against Iowa, and while the Hawkeyes are likely a better team than Wisconsin, the latter is still a quality opponent — the Badgers are ranked No. 22 in KenPom after Tuesday.
As bad as the last minute and the supporting cast were tonight, there were still positives to take out of the defeat. For one, Wiggins got back on track, scoring 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting and going 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. It may just be one game, but if he can carry this performance over into the next few games, Maryland will be in good shape.
“He came in and played big minutes, not only on the offensive end, but on the defensive end as well” Cowan said of Wiggins. “We need that from him. He’s slowly getting his confidence back, so we just keep needing that from him for the rest of the year.”
And while Cowan missed the final shot, he was still superb, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting (2-of-5 on threes) with three assists to just one turnover. Smith continues to excel from beyond the arc, as he went 2-of-3 on the night. The Terps as a unit also thoroughly outrebounded the Badgers, winning the battle on the glass 35-24.
In the end, Maryland lost its fourth road game in as many tries and let a win slip through its fingers. But if Turgeon’s team can build on the positives from Tuesday, it could be in store for successful next few weeks.
“I do feel better about our guys today than I did Friday night,” Turgeon said. “We competed, tried to do the right things, and we became a better team in the last three days, so it’s going to help us moving forward.”