Everything was falling apart for Maryland men’s basketball.
With under two minutes remaining, a once 16-point lead over Penn State had shrunk to one. Then, the Nittany Lions earned their first lead of the contest, the Terrapin defense struggling to get the job done and the offense gone cold.
Things only got worse from there.
With around 30 seconds left, Maryland tried to follow a harassing offense, struggling to adjust as its opponent moved the ball back and forth, in and out of the paint, a complex slew of passes.
The ball eventually found forward Seth Lundy beyond the top right of the arc. Forward Donta Scott tried to run over, but it was too late as the Nittany Lion pulled the trigger and sunk the triple.
The three-pointer proved to be the finishing blow in this one, as Maryland completely fell apart in the final minutes to suffer a debilitating 66-61 defeat on senior night.
“You have losses in life that are devastating, and this is one of them. A lot of tears in the locker room,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “And we played well early, didn’t play well late and couldn’t stop it, you know. The momentum changed and we couldn’t stop it.”
With the loss, the Terps finish tied with Michigan State for eighth place in the Big Ten standings. They had a chance to tie for sixth going into the contest.
Entering a Feb. 14 matchup with Minnesota, Maryland had just four wins in Big Ten play, its chances of an NCAA Tournament bid continuing to look bleak. The Terrapins had earned some big upsets, but they were painstakingly inconsistent.
The team had been picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten, and it showed early on as Maryland navigated the unrelenting conference. It certainly wasn’t ideal, but it was somewhat understandable as Turgeon’s squad was adjusting to the absence of its two best players from a season ago in Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith, along with a slew of role players, and doing so without an offseason due to the pandemic.
Everything seemed to have turned around, Maryland with a chance to end the Big Ten season above .500 after a five-game run. But that win streak has crumbled late, with Maryland dropping its two final contests of the regular season.
“It’s tough. I mean, I can’t even explain how hard the season was, the regular season to this point,” Turgeon said. “...You go from picked 11th...you overcome a lot of stuff, and so that’s what makes it devastating. I’m really proud of a lot of things we did, you know, to get to 15 wins and nine league wins. But yeah, it’s crushing.”
Eager to rebound from a loss at Northwestern, Maryland went on a 12-0 run out of the gates Sunday night, doing so in four and a half minutes while forcing Penn State to miss its first nine shots. It was the Terps’ third straight game to go on a big run to start things off, including an 11-0 spurt to open its contest against Michigan State and a 9-0 streak against the Wildcats, though that one didn’t last long in the defeat.
Maryland began to face similar issues as it did last time out against Northwestern, committing a series of turnovers to allow its opponent to get back into the game. Penn State got the game as close as five points. Yet, the Terps were able to quickly get back on track, making five consecutive field goals to regain an 18-9 advantage with 10:22 left in the half.
After denying a second chance attempt from Nittany Lion big man John Harrar with under eight minutes until the halftime break, Galin Smith made a heroic leap after the ball, stopping it from going out of bounds and then passing it off to Darryl Morsell. The senior guard raced down the court, fooled the defense by coming to a quick stop outside the paint and then threw up a lob, which Hakim Hart slammed down emphatically.
The electrifying sequence marked the Terps’ eighth make of their last 10 shot attempts and an 68.6% mark from the field on the evening to thus far. On the other end, the Nittany Lions were 5-for-19, a mere 26.3%. The complete suffocation helped propel Maryland to a lead as large as 16 points in an utterly dominant start to the contest.
But that would shrink thanks to a 10-0 run from Penn State in less than two minutes. But Maryland responded, once again, with Darryl Morsell going on a personal five point spurt in an instant shortly before the halftime break, into which they carried a 33-23 lead.
However, Penn State hung around as that lead was cut in half out of the break. The Nittany Lions were within five points less than five minutes in after some costly Maryland turnovers including an and-one on a made triple.
“Just be mindful of the plays you make and just make sure it’s the right play at the end of the day,” said forward Donta Scott of where things went wrong taking care of the ball. “Not to force it, not to go for a championship play or a winning play. Just go for simple plays, nice, easy plays so you get easy, nice points.”
Shortly after, however, Scott drained a triple. And then came another. Wiggins drove into the paint, spun around and passed the ball beyond the arc on the corner to Scott, who used a shimmy hesitation to throw off his defender and drain a triple from the corner with ease. The sophomore forward’s personal 6-0 run once again put the Terps up by a large margin with a 50-36 advantage with 11:24 remaining. The large lead made the loss an even tougher one to swallow.
Though Penn State hung around, the Terps still appeared somewhat in control, at least until the advantage shrunk in the final five minutes, eventually to just one point at 57-56 with 1:47 left. That was when everything changed. That was when everything slipped away.
The Nittany Lions earned their first lead of the game and never looked back, making their last four shots as Maryland fell apart at the seams. For the first time all night, the Terps didn’t have a response as they struggled to make key shots and defend to their standards, their confidence nowhere to be found.
“They got momentum going towards the end of the second half, making tough shots and getting to the basket,” Wiggins said. “And I mean, you got to give them credit, they executed, you know, they didn’t let up. And we just weren’t as good defensively the last couple of minutes. So it really came to bite us.”
Thus, Maryland slugged off the court in despair, the frustration of players and coaches clear as day following the crushing defeat.
“Our guys are just devastated,” Turgeon said. “We expected to win the game and it just snowballed and we really couldn’t stop it, and those are hard. Those are really hard.”
Three things to know
1. The Terps will be the No. 8 seed in the Big Ten tournament. With the loss, Maryland will face Michigan State at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the second round at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The road in Indianapolis won’t be easy, as the winner between the Terps and Spartans will face top-seed Michigan in the quarterfinals.
2. Aaron Wiggins had another impressive performance. After recording 26 points on 10-for-15 shooting against Northwestern, including five triples on nine attempts, Wiggins once again stepped up to lead his team. He finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season.
Wiggins has been a spark for the Terrapins on its impressive run to end the season. Over the last seven games, he’s averaged 18.1 points and 7.1 rebounds. As the team enters the postseason, it will live and die by the junior guard’s performance. The Terrapins certainly hope he’ll remain hot.
3. The Terps again struggled to get to the free-throw line. Getting to the free throw line has been much easier said than done recently for the Terps. Maryland had lived at the line up until its loss last Wednesday to Northwestern, where it only made seven total trips to the charity stripe. The same was true in Sunday’s contest, going 7-of-13 (53.8%) from the line in this one in yet another disappointing offensive display.