The Maryland men's basketball team spent the first three weeks of the season following the same script: coming back from second-half deficits, a couple of them seemingly insurmountable, only to win at the end.
Pittsburgh had read the script, didn't like the ending, and seemingly discarded it Tuesday at Xfinity Center by building a 21-point halftime lead that mushroomed to as many as 25 early in the second half.
By far the biggest deficit of the season proved too large to overcome. The Terps cut the gap to eight points with 3:36 remaining before the Panthers pulled away to a 73-59 victory before an announced crowd of 17,144.
Senior forward Michael Young led Pittsburgh (6-1) with 25 points, 15 in the second half. Senior point Jamel Artis, who grew up in East Baltimore hoping someday to play for the Terps, scored 22.
Junior guard Melo Trimble led Maryland (7-1) with 13 points, while freshman guard Anthony Cowan scored 12.
“Pitt was great — a big, strong, physical team, a veteran team,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “They kind of punched us in the mouth in the first half and we didn't react very well to it, and we let our offense affect our defense in the first half.”
A missed one-and-one by Cowan with three minutes left, and a subsequent turnover by him, ended Maryland's comeback, as Young hit six straight free throws in the final two minutes to silence the crowd.
Pittsburgh coach Kevin Stallings, a friend of Turgeon dating back to their years as assistants under Roy Williams at Kansas, thought his Panthers saw a tired team in Maryland. The Terps were playing their fifth game in 10 days, coming off two emotional wins at the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn last weekend.
“The fact of the matter of timing is not lost on me. They played two really hard-fought games on Friday and Saturday, and I know how difficult that is to come back, basically on one day of preparation,” Stallings said. “We probably caught them at a good time. But having said that, I thought our team played about as well in the first half as we've played on both ends.”
Said Turgeon, “It was a good time to catch us. That's not an excuse. The fact is we didn't execute against a zone the way we should, the way we practiced [Monday]. And we didn't run back on defense the way we needed to. If we had could have done that in the first half, kept it around 10 or 12, because we know we could come back from that number, we would have had a chance.
For the first time all season, Maryland's three freshmen starters showed their inexperience for most of the game.
Forward Justin Jackson hit three of his first four shots, including two 3-pointers from the right corner, to help Maryland take an early lead. Those were the only points Jackson scored to go along with a season-low three rebounds.
Cowan, who had started the game guarding Artis and gave away more than seven inches and nearly 50 pounds, appeared to be rattled at times trying to attack Pittsburgh's zone defense.
And Kevin Huerter, whose timely shooting, high IQ passing and tough defense has helped Maryland win a number of games this season, missed the only shot he tried in the first half. He finished 2-for-9 from the field, shooting exclusively 3-pointers. He did have a team-high nine rebounds.
“My young guys were tired, mentally tired,” Turgeon said. “We're going to take the day off [Wednesday]. I told them they can't watch film, they can't come by, they can't shoot. They just need to get away from it because it's been a lot for this team already.”
A 24-4 run in the first half helped provide Pittsburgh with a 45-24 lead at halftime, with the Panthers shooting a sizzling 18-of-27 from the field. Though they cooled off in the second half, the Terps never heated up, finishing 21-of-61 and 10-of-36 from 3-point range.
It was a tough night for Trimble, who was coming off being named co-Big Ten player of the week.
In Maryland's fourth straight defeat in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and third straight since joining the Big Ten, Trimble finished 4-of-13 from the field, including 2-of-8 on 3-pointers, and went to the foul line just four times.
“We were able to keep Trimble off the foul line, which I think the zone helped us with that,” Stallings said.
Trimble recalled a similar game and outcome against a No. 7-ranked Virginia team at Xfinity Center when he was a freshman. Losing for the first time after a 7-0 start, the Terps wound up finishing second in the Big Ten while going to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years.
“It happened to us our freshman year, we played UVA., a veteran team, just like Pitt. We lost and we learned from it and we got better,” he said. “And that's what we're going to do. Get better.”