Maryland men’s basketball was in the midst of a storybook start against the top-seeded Michigan Wolverines in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
A few minutes after an absolute poster from junior guard Aaron Wiggins, the Terps were up 12 points in the latter part of the first half, making their presence known against one of the top teams in the nation. But that wouldn’t last long.
With Morsell on the bench, Maryland allowed Michigan to explode for a 16-2 run to take a two-point lead into the break. The Terps never got their momentum back from there, their dazzling start spoiled in a 79-66 loss to the Wolverines.
“There’s a reason they’re a one seed [in the NCAA Tournament]. They’re a really good basketball team. But we competed, had a chance there,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We battled, but that one heck of a team and they deserved to win today. They made plays when they had to.”
Maryland had locked down opponents in recent games, only allowing an average 60.5 points over its last 10 outings, but the Michigan offense was simply too much to handle.
This was yet another rough defeat at the hands of Michigan, as the Terps lost to the Wolverines by double digits in each of their two regular season matchups, falling 84-73 and 87-63, respectively. Turgeon’s squad found its defensive identity a few weeks after and was a much more cohesive team entering Friday’s matchup, but still, Michigan presented a huge challenge as one of the top teams in the nation.
Yet, Maryland wasn’t fazed in the slightest to start things off. The eighth-seeded team made all three of its first attempts from the floor and found itself up 15-6 with a little over 13 minutes left in the opening frame.
But the Terps’ lead quickly vanished as Michigan found its offensive footing and went on a 6-0 run in less than two minutes. The Wolverines thrived on the boards early, grabbing five offensive rebounds for six second chance points less than 10 minutes into the contest.
But Dickinson then recorded his second foul, coming on an illegal screen, and Maryland got back to work.
The Terps hit eight straight field goals, highlighted by an absolute stunner from Aaron Wiggins to build a lead as high as 12 points and absolutely stun the No. 4 team in the country early.
Darryl Morsell grabbed a short three-point attempt from Wolverines’ guard Eli Brooks and found the junior guard on the left side outside of the arc. Wiggins drove into the paint like a mad man, dodging multiple defenders before leaping over Franz Wagner and slamming down an absolute stunner with undeniable force.
Ayala also played a key role in the run as well, sinking a triple and two layups to give Maryland a 36-24 lead with 4:45 left in the first. He ended the first half with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the floor after recording 21 points and nine rebounds in Thursday’s win over Michigan State.
The Wolverines weren’t going away that quickly though. With Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Darryl Morsell sitting out for the final 7:50 of the half, they went on a 14-2 run from to tie the game back up at 38-38, wiping away the magical start. And in the final seconds before halftime, Wagner scored an easy layup off an assist from Mike Smith to give Michigan its first lead since the first minute of the game and extending the run to 16-2.
“Their guard, Mike Smith, I mean, he just controlled the whole tempo. I feel like they all feed off each other. They’re a very good team,” Ayala said.
Smith led the charge for Michigan, recording 18 points, 15 assists, five rebounds and two steals.
Out of the break, Michigan threw a zone defense at Maryland that caused it trouble. Feeling sped up, the Terps took quick shots from deep instead of finding the right shot
Soon, the Terps were in a 51-42 hole, their momentum found early in the first half nowhere to be seen. The Wolverines were in the midst on a 27-6 run since the 4:45 mark of the first half and in firm control.
“When you get a team like that down you gotta bury ‘em. You got your foot on their neck, you gotta leave it on their neck. You can’t give them any confidence,” Morsell said. “So, end of that first half they kind of found their confidence, they found their rhythm, and it just carried over into the second half. But I do want to say, we played hard. We played all the way to the end.”
With under 12 minutes left in the contest, Wagner took the ball at the top of the key, dribbled and drained a step-back triple to give Michigan its largest lead of the game at 57-47. The run had extended to 33-11.
After Juwan Howard was ejected following a scuffle between both benches with 10:44 left, it was the perfect chance for Maryland to get back into the game. And for a moment, it seemed like that might be the case as a a free throw from Ayala brought the game within six points. But alas, the Wolverines weren’t going away.
They built their lead up to as much as 15 points as Maryland continued to fire off ill-fated threes, its struggles against the Michigan zone continuing. At one point, Turgeon’s squad had missed 11 consecutive attempts from deep. Maryland shot 62.5% from the field in the first half and then went just 36.7% in the second.
“My last thing before we went out after halftime, I said, ‘We gotta have great possessions on offense. We gotta move the ball, we gotta share the ball, we gotta move our bodies, we gotta have a great shot every time so we can get our defense set,’” Turgeon said. “We didn’t do that.”
The Terps battled, but every time they tried to get back into the contest, the top-seeded Wolverines had an even stronger response to pull out the victory, sweeping the season series and ending Maryland’s Big Ten tournament run.
Three things to know
1. Bench players played a key role for both sides. While both teams got the bulk of their scoring from starters, Michigan and Maryland combined for 36 point soff the bench, including 31 in the first half. Chaundee Brown and Brandon Johns Jr, led the way for Michigan with 17 combined points off the bench, while Jairus Hamilton and Galin Smith smith accounted for all 13 of the Terps’ bench production.
2. Darryl Morsell lit it up. Though his absence in the latter half of the opening frame certainly was a detrimant for the Terps, Morsell made a huge impact when he was on the floor, and not just on the defensive end.
He trailed only Ayala in scoring, notching 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting while adding six rebounds. Morsell was the only Terp to finish with a positive plus/minus (+8), as the team struggled to hold things down when its senior leader went to the bench.
3. The Wolverines dominated on the boards. As has happened so many times this season with this undersized squad, Maryland came out on wrong end of the rebounding battle once again. The Wolverines hounded the Terps on the board, out-rebounding Maryland 32-26 on the afternoon. Nine of those boards came on the offensive end of the floor, contributing to 15 second chance points for Michigan.