WASHINGTON — Maryland entered nearly a week of preparation for this year's Big Ten tournament unsure of its quarterfinal opponent Friday at Verizon Center, with coach Mark Turgeon trying to use the time "to work on ourselves."
As evidenced by their 72-64 loss to Northwestern, the No. 25 Terps still have plenty to work on as they now get ready for the NCAA tournament.
The loss, the sixth in the past 10 games for the Terps (24-8), broke a two-game winning streak that ended the regular season and leaves them awaiting Sunday's NCAA tournament selection. The victory put Northwestern (23-10) into the Big Ten semifinals for the first time in the event's 20-year history.
A night after scoring 31 straight points in the first half against Rutgers, the Wildcats went on a 20-2 run to turn a 10-point Maryland lead into an eight-point lead of their own. During that stretch, the third-seeded Terps self-destructed with a series of turnovers, including successive shot clock violations.
"I thought Northwestern was the better team," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after his Terps lost to the Wildcats for the first time in five games since joining the Big Ten. "I thought they were tougher than we were. Really disappointed in the way we finished the game."
Said Northwestern coach Chris Collins, "We got down 10, I thought we got a little bit tired. I really challenged those guys with about 16 minutes left. 'Do you guys want to go home or do do you want to win this game?' They got little bit fired up. They got a little bit angry. They said, 'We're here to win.'"
The No. 6 seed Wildcats, who will face No. 2 seed Wisconsin in the second semifinal Saturday, turned their anger into more aggressive defense, holding the Terps without a field goal for over six minutes. Maryland briefly closed its deficit to three, but junior Vic Law answered with a long jumper and a dunk.
Asked if he felt the Terps were fighting uphill after Northwestern's big run, freshman guard Kevin Huerter said, "We've been fighting uphill all year. A lot of times it's a game of runs, but we knew they were good shooters and it seemed like they were making a lot of shots."
Junior forward Scottie Lindsey, who sat out Maryland's 10-point win over Northwestern last month in Evanston, Ill., while recovering from mononucleosis, joined Law in leading the Wildcats with 17 points apiece. Junior guard Melo Trimble led the Terps with 20 points. Huerter scored 19.
After Huerter scored 12 points in the first half and added another basket on a tip-in off two missed free throws by senior center Damonte Dodd early in the second half, the Wildcats seemed to take away the 6-foot-7 wing's ability to drive or pull up for even long NBA-range 3-pointers.
"They were just sitting on different plays," Huerter said. "They did a better job of sitting on some of them in the second half."
The loss also left the loud pro-Maryland crowd mostly quiet at the end. It was a much different scene than at the beginning of the season, when the Terps staged a late comeback at Verizon Center to beat Georgetown by a point when Huerter saved the victory with a potential game-winning block.
"It hurts," Trimble said. "The crowd was really good today, a lot of them here. We thought it was a home game for us. Unfortunately, we weren't able to win."
Unfortunately it was like a couple of the games the Terps lost in College Park among the five defeats at Xfinity Center this season. As happened in Big Ten defeats to Nebraska and Purdue, Maryland built a double-digit lead in the second half and then stopped scoring.
After a 16-6 run gave them a 36-34 lead at halftime, the Terps started the second half on an 8-0 run. After a drive by Trimble made it 44-34 — he was fouled but missed the subsequent free throw — the Wildcats finally hit their first shot of the second half, a semi-desperation 3-pointer by junior guard Bryant McIntosh.
Two straight shot clock violations by the Terps then helped Northwestern's comeback.
"They took us out of our offense the whole game," Trimble said. "We weren't able to run anything that we practiced. We just weren't sharp on our cuts, we weren't playing smart at all. A lot of turnovers. I had six [of the team's 14]. Just mental mistakes."
Said Turgeon, "They were just physical. They were sitting on a lot of things that we do. But we allowed them to do it. They pushed us out a little bit further than what we're accustomed to. We just weren't cutting hard enough. … We were just going through the motions a little bit."
While acknowledging the crowd as "amazing" and crediting the Wildcats and Collins for being the "better team," Turgeon had less flattering things to say about his own team after failing to make the Big Ten semifinals for the first time since joining the conference.
"We just didn't play with the toughness we needed to play with," Turgeon said. "We didn't play very smart. They were good. Give them credit."
Said Huerter, "We just have to try to forget about this game. Obviously take away what we didn't do very well, which is we got out-toughed and didn't execute offensively."
The Terps will take the short drive back to campus and get ready to hear what the NCAA tournament committee thinks of the season they put together. After a 20-2 start – the best in school history – Maryland goes into the NCAA tournament in a late-season fade reminiscent of last year.
A year ago, the Terps reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003 after losing six of their last eight regular-season games before losing in the Big Ten tournament semifinals to Michigan State.
"I think we were expecting to be here all weekend. It kind of stinks going back," Huerter said. "We were expecting to play for three days and now we're not. We've just got to get better."