COLLEGE PARK — In its first two years in the Big Ten and its first two months of the current season, the Maryland basketball team had won many games in what became a somewhat dangerous trademark — making huge second-half comebacks at home.
The Terps appeared to be doing the same thing Sunday against Nebraska when they turned an 8-point deficit with 16:26 left into a 13-point lead less than eight minutes later. Then Maryland did something it has not done often — and certainly not lately — during Mark Turgeon's six seasons.
The Terps failed to score over the final 6:02. They came up empty on nine straight possessions — missing nine shots and turning the ball over three times. The Terps watched the Cornhuskers score 16 of the game's last 17 points, including the final 14, as Nebraska pulled off a 67-65 win at Xfinity Center.
Instead of its eighth victory in a game in which it erased a second-half deficit, Maryland (13-2, 1-1) lost a Big Ten home game for only the second time since joining the league. It was the first defeat for the Terps at home this season since losing by 14 to Pittsburgh on Nov. 29. It ruined a career-high 26-point performance for freshman Kevin Huerter.
"I told our guys in the meeting yesterday, I said, 'You got to knock Nebraska out; they keep coming.' We never knocked them out," Turgeon said of the Cornhuskers, who were coming off a road win at No. 16 Indiana on Wednesday and are now 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time.
Rather than putting the blame on his players and pointing to a collective lack of poise down the stretch, Turgeon instead chose to blame himself for not preparing the Terps for the 1-3-1 zone the Cornhuskers played in a desperate attempt to slow down Huerter.
"About the five-minute mark, the six-minute mark, we started to play a little bit slower and we couldn't put the stops together," Turgeon said. "They showed one possession all year of the 1-3-1. We didn't work on it enough. It's 100 percent on me there. We got some good looks, got some layups against it, just couldn't finish."
Nebraska coach Tim Miles said after the game that he put in the 1-3-1 defense the day before Christmas and used it briefly in his team's upset of the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall. Though Turgeon noticed it in watching the Cornhuskers on tape, he didn't expect they would use it after playing man-to-man nearly the entire game.
"If you have a veteran team and you haven't seen it, you do what you've done in the past and you adjust quicker," said Turgeon, who starts three freshmen. "We take the easy way out because we had so many new guys on the floor and you just try to make plays against it. Maybe the inexperience hurt us."
Said junior guard Melo Trimble, who finished with 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting, "We always play to win, always want to attack on the offensive end and get stops, rebound and continue to push, but we just couldn't make any shots. Once we started missing shots, they started to capitalize on it and started making shots themselves."
Still, Trimble had two chances to either win the game with a 3-point shot or force overtime.
After a layup by senior guard Tai Webster (18 points) put the Cornhuskers ahead 66-65 with 30 seconds remaining, Trimble turned over the ball and Webster hit one of two free throws. Trimble then missed two shots in the last seven seconds.
The first, an open 3-pointer from the left wing, was airballed. Fortunately for the Terps, the ball hit off a Nebraska player and went out of bounds with 4.7 seconds left. Following a Maryland timeout, freshman guard Anthony Cowan had trouble inbounding. The ball got to Trimble, who missed an off-balanced 17-footer that could have sent the game to overtime.
"I thought the guys really executed and got Melo a good-look 3. I would rather go to the rim and tie it and go to overtime, hopefully be better against the zone in overtime," Turgeon said. "Melo had an open look…He's made a lot of those for us. And the last play we didn't execute the right way."
Recalling all the close games the Terps have won — including all three previous regular season games against Nebraska — Trimble said, "It was unfortunate that we didn't tie the [score] or take the lead or anything like that at the end of the game. So far this year we've done that in every close game, but just couldn't get that to go for us. It's basketball, and hopefully we just have to learn from it."
It appeared as if the Terps' inexperience caught up with them down the stretch. Huerter was hot shooting the ball, and his 4-point play stretched the lead to 13 points with 8:37 to go. But the 6-7 wing managed just two shots the rest of the way.
"I think on offense, with guys not taking shots, I think every time down the court we tried to take the best shot possible," said Huerter, whose seven 3-pointers were the most ever by a Maryland freshman. "We give credit to them. They made a run, we didn't get stops, they got a lot of offensive rebounds, a lot of balls didn't seem to tip our way. They came back and they did what we've been doing to a lot of teams this year. They did it in on us."
Said Turgeon, whose team will play its first true road game Saturday at Michigan, "Going through that in our building, a team making a run on us, and not being able to make plays, that was kind of all new to us. I don't want to make excuses. I've just got to do a better job, late in the game, of making sure we make one play."