It was another disappointing performance for Maryland men’s basketball Sunday night, falling to Penn State, 66-61, on senior night at Xfinity Center.
The Terps took a commanding lead early, but consistent pressure from the Nittany Lions was enough to cause a collapse in the final minutes. An advantage that was once as large as 16 points evaporated as Penn State swept the Terps, sending them into the postseason nose-diving.
Head coach Mark Turgeon now has a 21-22 record in the month of March at Maryland when counting all regular season games as well as conference tournament, NCAA Tournament and NIT games. After a five-game win streak to end February, the Terps are 0-2 in March this season with the postseason starting on Thursday and NCAA bubble conversations resuming.
Here are my takeaways from the Terps’ deflating loss to Penn State.
Maryland could not contain Seth Lundy
After the Terps opened with another strong run, this time jumping out to a 12-0 advantage, it was Lundy who came back and answered with nine points of his own to immediately shrink the Maryland lead.
He also came up big when it mattered late. With 1:23 left in the game, Lundy faked a three-point shot, drove inside and put in a floating bucket over Donta Scott to give the Nittany Lions their first lead of the game. In the final 3:22 of regulation, Lundy hit the final four field goals for Penn State, carrying his team to victory.
“Lundy was terrific, I mean, out-of-his-mind terrific,” head coach Mark Turgeon said.
The sophomore was a routine starter for the Nittany Lions, but had since been moved into a bench role after a lull in scoring.
Last time out against the Terps, one of his final starts of the season, Lundy tallied just two points on 1-of-8 shooting, including an 0-for-6 mark from long-range.
Sunday night, Lundy came in off the bench to score 31 points on 11-of-18 shooting, including 5-of-8 from three, and added eight rebounds in 30 minutes.
“[He] shot the ball well,” sophomore forward Donta Scott said. “As you can see, he shot it very well. So, [we] just got to play defense.”
During this two-game losing stretch, Maryland has defended the majority of players well, but the small handful that it hasn’t has made all the deference.
Against Northwestern, Boo Buie (15), Chase Audige (14) and Pete Nance (12) combined for 41 of the Wildcats’ 60 points. Sunday night, it was Lundy (31) and Myreon Jones (17) combining to score 48 of the Nittany Lions’ 66 points.
In the postseason, the Terps will have to get back to forcing teams to have more players step up, rather than allowing small factions of rosters roam free.
Eric Ayala was given the keys late
Throughout the month of February, Ayala consistently converted offensively for Maryland, averaging 17.3 points per game.
Despite scoring just five points against Northwestern last time out and only having 12 points on 3-for-6 shooting up until that point, Ayala got the nod Sunday when Maryland needed a bucket to retake the lead.
With just over a minute left and the Terps trailing 58-57. Ayala was given the ball at the top of the key and the offense cleared out so he could work towards the rim. Penn State played extra safe with two defenders helping Myles Dread, causing Ayala to take a mid-range jumper instead of reaching the rim, which he missed.
“Eric can make that shot,” Turgeon said. “He’s made it many times in his life. I’d rather him get all the way to the rim... It was pretty good. One of our better possessions.”
With junior guard Aaron Wiggins being the most consistent offensive threat — averaging 18.1 points per game over the last seven outings — it made sense for someone else to be given the chance late to make a play given that there may be less defensive pressure. But Turgeon elected to the do the same with Ayala against Northwestern, which he also missed.
The play call was a good one, but the execution simply didn’t pan out. With the postseason coming around the corner, the Terps will need to convert these chances even if it goes a little off course in order to push forward.
Turnovers are plaguing the Terps once again
Giving away the ball to opponents has been a struggle for Maryland for stretches throughout this season.
The Terps have had windows of positive momentum, but times when they give the ball away more than they take it have caused issues.
Sunday against Penn State, Maryland turned the ball over 13 times and only had nine takeaways of its own. Against Northwestern, the Terps turned it over 15 times and had just 12 takeaways.
“[We] gotta be better with our decision making,” Wiggins said. “Can’t always try to make the home runs, got to make the simple plays. That’s what got us the wins that we’ve gotten and we got to get back to just making simple plays, moving our bodies, moving the ball and playing for each other.”
During the back-end of the Terps’ latest win-streak, the team used positive turnover margins to grind out victories. In game two against Nebraska, Maryland had a +7 advantage and followed that up with a +4 effort against Rutgers. Against Michigan State, both teams limited turnovers, but the Terps still came away with a +1 edge.
During the last two games, however, Maryland gave away three extra possessions to Northwestern and four extra turnovers to Penn State. In games that came down to five points each, those extra possessions mean everything.
Heading into the postseason, Maryland sits at No. 9 in the Big Ten with a turnover margin of -0.22, the first team on the negative side of the margin. Thursday’s matchup against Michigan State, which has a league-worst -2.23 margin, provides a chance for the Terps to bounce back and take control.