COLLEGE PARK — By winning five straight Big Ten games, the Maryland men's basketball team had hung near the top of the league standings. By the time they were to face Wisconsin Saturday at Xfinity Center, the Terps were in a three-way tie for first place with Indiana and Iowa.
With the Hoosiers losing at Penn State and the Hawkeyes losing in Bloomington earlier in the week, Maryland seemed to finally have some momentum going into the final three weeks of the regular season. It didn't last long: Saturday's deflating 70-57 loss to the Badgers left the Terps playing catch-up again.
Not that Maryland coach Mark Turgeon notices such things, or cares to admit them publicly.
Even before second-ranked Maryland (22-4, 10-3) lost for the first time at home in the Big Ten and saw a school-record 27-game home winning streak end, Turgeon said that he didn't pay attention to what else was happening with the other two first-place teams.
"We don't think about it, the players might, I don't," Turgeon had said on Friday. "I wasn't really paying attention to that game [Indiana's win Thursday over Iowa]. I wasn't really concerned. What I am concerned about is our team. I know it sounds simple, but it really is.
"We've got tough games ahead of us. We've got to figure out a way to play well against Wisconsin. I keep saying we want to keep getting better and be playing our best basketball in March. We're heading in that direction, that's what's exciting to me."
The Terps took a step back – a significant step perhaps - against Wisconsin (16-9, 8-4).
Second only to Michigan State in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage, Maryland watched the Badgers make 12 of 26 from distance. The best free throw shooting team in the Big Ten for the entire season (76.3 percent), Maryland missed 10 of its first 19 foul shots before senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon hit three straight in the waning seconds. Sulaimon led the Terps with 17 points.
Other areas of concern that have popped up throughout the season were on display.
A team that has struggled to score in long stretches despite a starting lineup filled with potential NBA draft picks went more than eight minutes without a point and nearly 11 minutes without a basket as the Badgers went on a 17-0 run and took a 15-point lead at halftime.
"I just thought the first half, we weren't very good offensively," Turgeon said Saturday. "The second half we were at the park playing basketball. I can't really judge our shot selection because we were trying to play downhill, we were trying to play faster. From that 12-minute mark of the first half, we weren't very good."
A team that has struggled to keep smaller teams off the offensive boards surrendered 13 to the Badgers, who scored 20 points on second-chance opportunities. A team that has received little help offensive off the bench got a total of four points from reserve guard Jaylen Brantley.
Turgeon is not going to panic, though. It's only the second time in program history that the Terps lost to an unranked opponent at home while being ranked in the top 10. Maryland was No. 8 when it lost to unranked Virginia at the then brand-new Comcast Center in 2002-03. That was also the last season in which the Terps reached the NCAA Sweet 16.
"Reality is we're 22-4," Turgeon said. "We've had a good year. Every team goes through it. This is really the biggest adversity we've hit because we've lost a home game. We'll see how we handle it. I just want to get physically tougher and mentally tougher between now and Thursday. They've responded all year, so I expect him to do it again."
Individually, the biggest concern has to be sophomore point guard Melo Trimble.
Trimble had the worst shooting night of his otherwise brilliant college career, missing 13 of 14 shots, all but one of his attempts coming near the basket. Since making a long 3-pointer to beat the Badgers last month in Madison, Trimble is shooting 38 of 106 overall (35.8) and 13 of 51 on 3-pointers (25.5).
Asked what he said to Trimble after the game, senior forward Jake Layman said, "Just keep being aggressive. We trust him with the ball in his hands. I think if this game came down to the wire, and it was down to one shot, it would be in his hands, no matter what. … Just to stay confident. He's gotten some open shots. He's just got to knock them down."
The Terps have four days to figure out what went wrong Saturday against Wisconsin. Considering that Maryland's next game is at Minnesota, which has yet to win a game in the Big Ten this season going into Iowa Sunday night, the Terps might be able to put their worst performance of the season behind them quickly.
Not that Maryland will take the Gophers lightly, given some of the offensive struggles the Terps have experienced on the road recently at Nebraska and Ohio State.
"If we don't come out, if we don't play with a certain amount of energy, if we don't follow our principles, if we don't follow the scouting plan, if we don't execute, we're capable of getting beat by anyone," senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. "Like I said, this is an important loss for us. We're not going to hang our heads. All credit goes to Wisconsin. Back to the drawing board. We're going to get better and we're going to be better going forward."
And playing catch-up in the Big Ten once again.