Trailing by one with 28 seconds left, Maryland men’s basketball had an opportunity to escape Evanston, Illinois, with a victory.
Following a pass from Darryl Morsell, Eric Ayala pulled the trigger from the top of the key without hesitation, but his shot bricked off the rim and into the hands of Northwestern forward Ryan Young, who was immediately fouled and sent to the line.
A pair of free throws put the Terps down three with 13 ticks left, still with a chance to send this one to overtime. Despite six seconds left on the clock, Morsell pulled the early trigger from beyond the arc, but his shot also fell short.
The miss marked Maryland’s sixth straight as the team struggled to get the job done down the wire, falling 60-55 to Northwestern.
“I thought the team that played the best won the game,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Disappointing night for us, frustrating night for me, and we just didn’t we didn’t do the things we needed to do.”
The Terps had a sloppy performance throughout the night to halt their five game win streak in its tracks. Their 55 points marked their lowest scoring output since Feb. 5, when they lost to Penn State on the road.
Maryland was hampered by turnovers trouble all evening long, committing 15 giveaways in all to contribute to 12 points for Northwestern, certainly a difference maker in the close matchup
Coming into Wednesday night’s contest, Northwestern ranked outside the top 100 in Division I in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, assists, rebounding, steals and blocks, also in the bottom half in the Big Ten in scoring offense and defense.
The Terps certainly looked like the better team as the contest got going. Maryland knocked down each of its first three jump shots from the floor, with a three-pointer from Aaron Wiggins and a pair of midrange jumpers from Eric Ayala and Donta Scott giving them a 7-0 lead in an instant to force a quick timeout from the Wildcats. The run then extended to 9-0.
The Wildcats began the game shooting 0-for-6 from the field, failing to put one through the cylinder until the 15:21 mark of the first frame.
But once the Wildcats saw one go through, their confidence began to rise. As the Terps began to play loose with the ball, committing four turnovers in four minutes, the home team buried three jumpers of its own on its next three possessions, bringing the game within one to erase Maryland’s strong start.
“After we was up [9-0], we knew we was still in for a dogfight,” Morsell said. “Credit to them for being poised and sticking with their game plan and having confidence.”
Turnovers soon began a significant issue for Maryland, bringing whatever offensive momentum it had to a grinding halt. With 10:53 left in the half, Hakim Hart curled around a screen at the three-point line and received the pass on the move toward the bucket. But as the Northwestern defense collapsed on him, his attempted jump stop turned into a travel and Maryland’s sixth turnover of the half.
Maryland committed eight turnovers in the first 20 minutes, one above its per game average over its last three contests.
“It’s us, we can’t blame nobody else, we can’t blame coach Turgeon” Morsell said of the turnover issues. “We just got to do a better job of making reads and making the right plays.”
The Wildcats continued to assert themselves as the Terps remained stuck in neutral, out-scoring Maryland 19-5 after their first bucket.
The Terps picked up a pair of buckets at the rim from Darryl Morsell to spark the offense, going on to sink its next two three-pointers after that courtesy of Wiggins and Hakim Hart.
But Northwestern’s volume scorer in Boo Buie couldn’t be stopped, drilling triples from all over the floor to score nine first half points and lead the Wildcats to a 28-26 lead at the break.
It was primarily from the three-point line that Northwestern did most of its damage, knocking home eight first half triples. The Terps allowed an average 7.0 triples to its opponent per game coming into the contest.
“We just weren’t locked in,” Wiggins said of his team’s defensive effort. “We got to be consistent on the defensive end because that’s when we’re at our best, and we just weren’t locked in tonight.”
Both teams continued to push for breathing room as the second half got underway, with Chase Audige carrying the load for Northwestern. The junior transfer sunk each of his first two three-point attempts to begin the half, knocking one down in the face of a Maryland defender before shushing the Terp bench as he backpedaled down the floor with his team up 36-31.
The Terps’ offense simply couldn’t figure out Northwestern’s zone defense, though, swinging it around looking for an opening only for it to end in a one-on-one and a contested shot.
A lack of good looks eventually led to Maryland trying to force passes into tight coverage. Coming out of a timeout, Hart ran a pick-and-pop action with Galin Smith, kicking it out the big man at the top of the key. But as Smith looked to feed a flashing Morsell, his pass was stolen and brought right down the floor by Ty Berry, ending in a foul at the rim and two free throws.
Berry’s pair at the line put the Wildcats back up 43-37 with 10:58 left, continuing to feed into Northwestern’s aspirations for a big win on its home floor.
The Terps managed to battle back bring things back even with a three ball from Aaron Wiggins, giving Maryland a chance to come out with a win if it were to close out the game well from that point on.
But for each step forward for the Terps, it was followed by two steps back, as the team went the next 3:06 without a bucket to allow for Northwestern to go back ahead by five with 7:22 left.
While Maryland continued to press for any kind of rhythm offensively, Wiggins kept taking it upon himself to carry the load. With 4:50 remaining, As Morsell looked to push the tempo up floor, Wiggins spotted up on the left wing, receiving the pass and burying the three-pointer to put his team back up one.
On the next possession, he found himself isolated at the top of the key with Wildcat forward Pete Nance lined up across from him. Wiggins took a hard jab-step to with his right foot before diving through the lane with his left hand, laying it home off the glass plus the foul, giving Maryland a slim 54-52 lead with 3:48 left
The ensuing slugfest would test the toughness of each team as the game became increasingly physical as time dwindled away.
It was ultimately Maryland that was unable to execute down the stretch, coming up short time and time again to allow Northwestern to squeak out a confidence-building win on its home floor.
Three Things to Know
1. Aaron Wiggins continues to deliver. On a night where most Terps struggled to find a rhythm, Wiggins kept his team in it on the scoreboard. Wiggins set a new career-high with 26 points on the night, doing so on 10-of-15 shooting and going 5-for-9 from deep. The junior guard has scored at least 13 points in each of the last seven games.
2. The Terps couldn’t get to the line. Over its recent win streak, Maryland has lived at the free-throw line. The team has attempted 52 free throws over its last two games, converting on them at a 78% clip, including going 23-for-24 last game against Michigan State. However, the whistles did not favor them on Wednesday night, going the entire first half without a free throw attempt and making just seven trips to the line on the night.
“I thought it was a very physical game,” Turgeon said. “We tried to get there, we tried to get there. Just couldn’t get there tonight.”
3. Maryland struggled on the boards. Coming into this one, Northwestern ranked as the worst rebounding team in the Big Ten this season. The Wildcats have averaged 32.7 rebounds per game and just 7.4 offensive boards per game, but that wasn’t the case on Wednesday. Northwestern were the aggressors on the glass all night long, winning the rebounding battle with 32 boards, including eight offensive rebounds, to 31 for the Terps.