The unpredictable saga of Maryland’s men’s basketball’s play this season continued on Wednesday night, with the team falling to No. 14 Wisconsin, 61-55, at Xfinity Center after defeating No. 21 Minnesota on the road.
The Terps trailed by 18 points at the halftime break, but managed to trim the deficit to just three at one point in the second half thanks to a hot three-point shooting spurt. But that scoring run could not be sustained, as the Badgers held a comfortable lead for much of the game down the stretch to hand Maryland its seventh Big Ten loss of the season.
“We lost the game really right before halftime,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We just weren’t as quick as we needed to be, back to the inconsistent stuff.”
Here are my biggest takeaways.
Maryland continues to live and die by the three
This year’s Maryland squad has shown little to no hesitation when it comes to letting it fly from beyond the arc, which has proven to be both a good and bad thing at times.
With the host of quick-trigger shooters that the Terps have camped out along the three-point line each game, most have been capable of catching and shooting before their defender can put in a strong contest. However, Maryland has too often fallen back on its tendency to settle for long range shots, making it especially difficult to keep up offensively when those shots aren’t falling.
Such was the case on Wednesday night, where the Terps attempted 30 three-point attempts, by far their most in a single game this season. The team converted on just nine of those attempts as well, managing just 55 points on the evening, tying for the least its scored in a game since Big Ten play began.
Major theme in this one has been the Terps' inability to knock down open shots when they need it.— Henry Malone (@henrymalone_) January 28, 2021
Get a really good look here for Donta Scott, which could've cut the lead to four points, but his three-pointer falls off the mark.
Maryland has shot 8-29 from deep tonight. pic.twitter.com/tkjtDdLpkM
“I think that’s what they were giving us,” Turgeon said of the team’s shot selection. “We took some bad ones, but we had a lot of inside-out looks that were wide open too so we did a lot of things well.”
The team’s plan of attack was a stark contrast to its approach the last time the two teams met, when Maryland went after Wisconsin on the inside for the majority of its scoring in its last win. 38 of Maryland’s 70 points came on two-pointers, though on Wednesday night the Terps only attempted 23 two-point shots compared to 35 in the previous outing. The Terps shot 43.5% on two-pointers compared to 30% from deep.
At the end of the first half, Maryland had 20 points, 10 of which came in the paint and four by the charity stripe. The team had made just two of a whopping 14 triple attempts. The only two made threes came from sophomore forward Donta Scott, who had half of the Terps’ points at the break.
Historically, this year’s team doesn’t take many more three-pointers than teams in the past, with this season marking the third straight in which Maryland has averaged over 20 attempts per game from beyond the arc. But the inconsistent nature with which the Terps have shot the ball has often been the deciding factor in several of their games.
Through 17 games so far this season, the Terps have shot below 35% from deep in eight of them. In those eight games, Maryland is just 2-6. On the flip side, the team boasts a 7-2 record in games where they shoot above 35%.
Obviously any team is going to be more likely to win a given game when it shoots the ball well, but Maryland’s dependency on that in order to win has been one of the leading causes for its inconsistent play this season.
Maryland got a taste of its own medicine
As Big Ten play has worn on, Maryland has begun to develop an identity founded on the defensive end of the floor.
The team’s last win over Minnesota was perhaps the best representation of that, with the Terps holding the Gophers to a season-low 49 points in what was the team’s third road victory against an AP Top-25 opponent.
Maryland’s win earlier this season over Wisconsin also fit within that defensive identity, as the Terps held the Badgers to just 64 points in that road win back on Dec. 28, the least that the team had scored in a game at that point in the season.
But Wisconsin flipped the script on Maryland on Wednesday night, putting forth one of its strongest defensive performances to gut out a low-scoring road win.
The Badgers’ perimeter defenders left Maryland ball handlers with little to no room to penetrate off the dribble, making precise rotations to significantly limit opportunities to get into the paint. Seven-foot forward Micah Potter also made his presence known defensively on the interior, using his large frame to deter any and all Terps from slashing and meeting him at the rim.
“It’s just a matter of moving the ball a little bit faster and moving with a purpose,” junior guard Aaron Wiggins said. “It’s a lot of different things that we can do off the ball just to create more space for guys to drive and to create for open shots.”
The Terps shot just 19-for-53 (35.8%) from the field on the evening, good for its worst shooting performance since its loss to Rutgers on Dec. 14. Maryland also only got to the free-throw line nine times on Wednesday, just the third time it has attempted less than 10 free throws in a game this season.
Although Maryland played some strong defense in its own right, there’s only so far that can take you when the other team defends just as well, if not better.
“As a basketball player, it’s always frustrating when you’re doing the right things and then just can’t capitalize on the other end,” Scott said. “We gotta start the game off like how we came out in the second half, and then once we do that then we really got something going. It’s frustrating, but everything starts early.”
Eric Ayala struggled to get going offensively
After nursing a lingering groin injury that caused him to miss Maryland’s game against No. 19 Illinois, junior guard Eric Ayala returned to the starting lineup in the team’s last game against Minnesota and looked like he was back to his old self.
He scored a team-high 21 points against the Gophers, shooting 8-of-14 from the field in 39 minutes on the floor. But despite filling it up his last time out, Ayala was unable to get on track against Wisconsin.
The junior struggled to penetrate off the dribble against Wisconsin’s rotation of staunch perimeter defenders and failed to finish through contact on dribble drives that did make it to the rim. His shots from beyond the arc just would not fall either, failing to connect on a three-pointer for just the third time this season.
As a result, the junior had his worst shooting performance of the season on Wednesday, managing just four points on 1-for-10 shooting and going 0-of-4 from three-point range.
“We just gotta have more guys play better,” Turgeon said. “Guys go 1-for-10 coming off a game where they make shots, so it is what it is.”
Though there are many factors that have contributed to Maryland’s three Big Ten wins this season, Ayala’s play has certainly been one of them. In the two wins that Ayala has taken part in, he’s averaged 19 points per game. Consistent offensive options have been few and far between for the Terps this season, so when Ayala’s shots aren’t falling, it makes things just that much more difficult for Maryland in the scoring department.