This was a chance for Maryland to finally beat a Top 25 team. It was a chance for the Terps to go into the Big Ten tournament at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Thursday riding a mini-roll of three straight wins.
And a day after news surfaced of alleged improper payments to Diamond Stone by an agent during his only college season, it was a chance to give Maryland coach Mark Turgeon something positive to talk about.
The Terps still have yet to get a signature win this season. The steps forward Maryland took in its recent victories over Rutgers on Feb. 17 at home and at Northwestern on Monday was followed by a big face-plant.
Turgeon was asked more about the story involving Stone than anything that happened against Michigan during his postgame news conference.
Here are some observations and opinions from Maryland's 85-61 loss to No. 17 Michigan on Saturday:
Huerter struggles at both ends
If there was any Terp who was looking forward to getting another chance to play the Wolverines, it had to be sophomore guard Kevin Huerter.
It was Huerter who hit two huge 3-point shots — including what appeared to be the game-winner — to lead Maryland from a 10-point deficit to the brink of a road win in Ann Arbor on Jan. 15.
Only a defensive gaffe on the ensuing inbounds pass prevented the Terps from going home with a victory. That and two free throws with Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.
Huerter got off to a decent start Saturday at Xfinity Center. But Abdur-Rahkman was hot from nearly start to finish in a career-high 28-point performance.
What was surprising wasn’t how good Abdur-Rahkman looked shooting the ball; what was surprising, even shocking, was how confused Huerter looked trying to defend him.
His offense wasn’t much better.
Though nothing was said after the game, you have to wonder if the pinkie Huerter injured in Monday’s game at Northwestern was still bothering him.
After missing his first shot on Maryland’s opening possession, Huerter posted up Duncan Robinson for a turnaround and then hit a left-handed drive for a 10-8 lead.
Huerter helped keep the Terps competitive, with a 3-point shot to cut the deficit to 20-15 and a drive to make it 26-18. But Huerter went cold, and Maryland was down 30 at halftime.
The second half wasn’t much better. After scoring nine points in the first half on 4-for-9 shooting, Huerter finished with just 12 by going 1-for-5 in the second half, including 0-for-3 on 3-pointers.
If Maryland wants to have any chance of beating Wisconsin in the second-round of the Big Ten tournament Thursday, it will need Huerter to be fresh and scoring with more consistency.
Maryland’s bigs looked small
Even though neither of the centers had a huge game offensively in the win over the Wildcats earlier in the week, freshman Bruno Fernando and senior Michal Cekovsky combined for 17 points and 11 rebounds.
On Saturday against the Wolverines, the two Terps big men combined for 18 points — 12 by Fernando in 20 minutes — but only had four rebounds between them, none from the 7-foot-1 Cekovsky. Neither blocked a shot.
While a lot of it had to do with the way Michigan moved the ball around the perimeter and shot 15-for-31 on 3-pointers, Fernando appeared more tentative around the basket than he had recently. Cekovsky never got into any flow.
While Michigan’s Moritz Wagner was more facilitator than scorer, finishing with eight points, he seemed to be a bigger factor than either Fernando or Cekovsky. The Maryland big men will have a much different challenge Thursday against Ethan Happ.
At this point, Turgeon has to go as long as he can with Fernando, if the 6-10 Angolan can stay out of foul trouble, which he did Saturday by not committing a foul for the first time in his college career.
If he continues to play smart, it might be best to keep him in there.
Once the Terps wind up in the NIT, which seems likely short of a miraculous run similar to what Michigan did in last year’s Big Ten tournament, everything is geared toward getting ready for next season.
There should be no debate between playing a freshman and a senior.
Maryland’s trip(s) to New York
Just as Happ and a few of his Wisconsin teammates might find some familiarity at the Garden, where they lost a year ago in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16, the Terps can use the experience for the future as well.
It would be more of the immediate future, since Maryland will hope to go back there for the NIT semifinals and final in late March if the Terps don’t win four games in as many days on this trip to New York.
There is no getting around the obvious.
The most one-sided home loss in Mark Turgeon’s seven years at Maryland, the most lopsided since Comcast Center opened in 2002-03 and the worst loss in a home game in 20 years was not the way the Terps wanted to go into the postseason.
Sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr. said afterward that the Big Ten tournament will be a “fresh start” and put the Terps on a “level playing field” with the competition. Only if it were even a little true.
That’s almost exactly what was said before the NCAA tournament last season after a disappointing quarterfinal loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament at Verizon Center in Washington.
The Terps then lost to Xavier in the Round of 64 in Orlando.
Right now, giving the kind of weekend Turgeon and his Terps had, those seem like the good old days.