Maryland men’s basketball has continued to spiral as its gotten deeper into Big Ten play, with its latest loss to No. 5 Iowa at Xfinity Center Thursday night.
Since pulling off the upset against No. 8 Wisconsin, the Terps have lost three straight games, dropping them to 1-5 in conference play and 6-6 on the season. Maryland kept pace with the high-scoring Hawkeye attack through the early part of the contest, but were dominated in the end by Iowa’s host of scoring options across the board.
“We got off to a good start moving the ball making shots, they went zone and we just never really got it going,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We let our offense affect our defense, and I don’t think we competed at a high enough level to win this game.”
The loss marks the first time that Maryland is .500 through 12 games since the 2007-08 season, with this also being the worst start to conference play since 1992-93.
“I think as a team, we have to do better just coming together and just playing behind one another,” Eric Ayala said.
As always, win or lose, here are my biggest takeaways.
Aaron Wiggins continues to produce
After setting a new career-high in scoring with 22 points in the team’s loss to Indiana on Monday, Aaron Wiggins continued to fill it up against the Hawkeyes on Thursday.
The junior guard has begun to emerge as one of the team’s most reliable three-level scorers as he’s overcome early struggles with consistency.
Facing a 3-2 zone that was aimed at keeping Maryland’s perimeter players outside the three-point line, Wiggins showed off his ability to capably attack closeouts and force other defenders to rotate over.
A miserable close to first half saw the Terps enter the second frame trailing by 18 points, which prompted Wiggins to come out in attack mode looking to narrow the deficit. He scored the team’s first 10 points of the half, knocking down a pair of three-pointers and two more jumpers from mid-range to keep Maryland’s offense afloat.
Aaron Wiggins is doing it all for Maryland offensively right now, scoring the team's first 8 points of the second half to try to get the Terps back into this one.— Henry Malone (@henrymalone_) January 8, 2021
He's up to 14 points tonight, having set a career-high in scoring his last time out against Indiana. pic.twitter.com/N9dT6Gl3DW
Wiggins scored 17 points on 7-for-14 shooting. He converted on just two of his eight three-point attempts, but added five rebounds and five assists. Through the last six contests, the junior has averaged 14.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
Maryland settled for too many outside shots
Maryland took deep three-pointers all night long and rarely got a good look at the rim.
With a 6-foot-11, 265 pound defensive stalwart in Luka Garza camped in the paint, any Maryland guard that considered trying to score at the rim was deterred. Maryland scored just 16 points in the paint on Thursday night, the fewest its scored all season.
The Terps’ perimeter-oriented approach worked for them early on, connecting on three of its first six three-point attempts to jump out to an early lead. But as the team’s shooters began to cool down, the deficit grew, as 16 of Maryland’s 28 field goal attempts in the first half came from behind the three-point line, with just four finding the bottom of the net.
“Obviously shots haven’t fallen for us in the past and tonight shots didn’t fall,” Wiggins said. “Their zone kind of tried to keep us from getting into the paint ... It was tough for us being able to get into paint, draw fouls and get easy looks, and the ones that we did get, shots weren’t falling, but it’s just a matter of us staying confident and trusting what our coach has for us.”
The Terps settled again and again for three-pointers, many early in the shot clock, ultimately hoisting 35 three-point attempts, the most in a single-game for Maryland since 2016. With the team connecting on just 12 of those shots, misses often led to quick run-outs and easy looks in transition for Iowa.
This sequence pretty much sums up how the first half has gone for Maryland.— Henry Malone (@henrymalone_) January 8, 2021
Aaron Wiggins settles for a deep three-pointer, Iowa rebounds and runs the floor, no one stops the ball and Keegan Murray coasts to the rim for the lay-in.
The Terps go into the half trailing by 18. pic.twitter.com/0ppSYtJtGU
For a team that shoots the three well, 35 attempts in a single game in justifiable. But Maryland has only shot 35.9% so far this season, good for 79th in Division I.
Maryland has no reliable post-presence
For the last few years, Maryland has always had at least one player they could count on to do the dirty work down low. Whether it was Bruno Fernando, Jalen Smith, or Damonte Dodd, big men have been one of they key parts of the foundation of Turgeon-led Terps teams, along with a point guard.
That’s been anything but the case so far this season, as Maryland is still searching for someone that can control the interior on both ends of the floor. Though he saw some scattered minutes earlier in the season, Chol Marial has all but been removed from the rotation, playing just one minute at Indiana and not even seeing the floor Thursday night.
“It’s not the answer,” Turgeon said when asked about Marial’s prospects as a post player. “He’s not a low post guy. He can shoot it, but he’s not the answer.”
Alabama transfer Galin Smith has been the Terps’ starter at the five spot for most of this season, but he’s mainly been a non-factor at either end of the floor. Smith tried his hand at taking Garza in the post on two separate occasions but looked overmatched as neither of his two hook shots fell. He finished with zero points in 14 minutes, bringing his points per game average over the last five games to just 1.4 despite having started in four of them.
Defensively, the Terps have been getting torched by the Big Ten’s host of talented interior scorers. Against Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, and now Luka Garza, Maryland has given up 26 points, 22 points and 24 points, with each players’ dominant performance being the difference during the team’s three-game skid.
Donta Scott and Jairus Hamilton have each provided some strong minutes, but neither are true centers that can contain what the Big Ten has to offer singlehandedly. What Maryland ultimately does to address the paint problem remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the team’s biggest weakness is its play on the interior, on both ends of the floor.
“There’s a lot really good bigs in this league. And of course this year, we don’t have one,” Turgeon said. “It’s not us. It’s not who we are.”