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3 takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball’s ‘crushing’ loss to Penn State

This time a year ago, the Maryland men’s basketball team put a bow on one of its best regular seasons under coach Mark Turgeon, beating Michigan in front of a packed Xfinity Center crowd to clinch a share of the Big Ten regular-season title, the program’s first since joining the conference in 2014.

Fast forward to Sunday and the stakes weren’t as dire in the regular-season finale, but still clear: Senior Night with family in attendance for the first time all season. The opportunity to finish tied for sixth with Wisconsin and Rutgers after falling to 4-9 in conference play.

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The Terps were well on their way to capping an impressive turnaround in the second half of the season but ultimately lost a 16-point lead, including a 14-point advantage in the second half, in a 66-61 loss to Penn State.

“It’s crushing,” Turgeon said.

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Here are three takeaways from Maryland’s defeat on Sunday night.

Maryland’s late-game execution has been lackluster.

Throughout the season, Maryland has suffered through extended scoring droughts. And many of its struggles have appeared when the Terps needed a bucket late in a close game.

In a 55-50 loss at Penn State in February that marked the nadir of Maryland’s season, it missed its final 10 field-goal attempts over the last 7:32 of the game. The Terps went scoreless over the final 2:32 and missed their final seven-field goal attempts in a five-point loss to Northwestern last Wednesday. On Sunday, Maryland missed five of its final six shot attempts and was outscored 30-11 by Penn State down the stretch in a loss that Turgeon characterized as “devastating” several times.

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After the Terps built a 14-point lead in the second half, much of their offense late reverted to isolations by junior guard Eric Ayala, which had mixed success but resulted in a lack of ball or body movement.

“Trying to figure out how to score is 3 a.m. in the morning, not sleeping, trying to figure it out,” Turgeon said. “It’s been a yearlong thing. That’s why we put so much emphasis into defense. … Our offense was good enough tonight to win. We make those front end one-and-ones and we guard the way we’re supposed to guard, we should still win the game.

“We were trying to get Eric downhill,” Turgeon added of the late-game philosophy. “Eric was the one guy that could get downhill. … They did a good job of guarding him. They zoned off a couple guys. And they switched everything. And that makes you stand a little bit. And we didn’t react to it well all the time and we lost our confidence a little bit.”

The Terps once again head into tournament play trending in the wrong direction.

Maryland isn’t far removed from its five-game winning streak, but after consecutive losses against two of the worst teams in the conference to close the season, it might as well be ages ago.

And it highlights a long-standing narrative that has followed Turgeon during his Maryland tenure: that his teams don’t peak at the right moment.

While the Terps were able to clinch a share of the regular-season title last year, they could have won it outright but lost two straight before beating the Wolverines in the season finale. In 2018-19, Maryland lost two of its last three in the regular season and then was upset as the fifth seed in the Big Ten tournament by 13th-seeded Nebraska.

Now the Terps must try to reverse their fortunes again in the single-elimination conference tournament, where they haven’t won a game since the 2015-16 season.

The difference between seventh and eighth in the Big Ten tournament is significant.

In his postgame comments, Turgeon alluded to the fact that reaching 10-10 in the toughest conference in the country would have been huge, given Maryland fell to 4-9 in early February.

And while a one-game difference in the standings wouldn’t have done much to change the overall perception of the Terps, it sets them on a different course for the conference tournament, which begins Wednesday.

A victory on Sunday would have given Maryland a matchup with 10th-seeded Indiana as the No. 7 seed. The Terps lost an early-season game on the road to the Hoosiers but senior guard Darryl Morsell sat out with a facial fracture and Maryland had not yet implemented the adjustments that turned its season around.

Instead, the eighth-seeded Terps will play ninth-seeded Michigan State, which beat Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State in the past two weeks to vault itself into consideration for an NCAA tournament bid. Should Maryland beat the Spartans, it would move on to face top-seeded Michigan, which has defeated the Terps by a combined 35 points in two games.

The matchup against Michigan State could ultimately favor Maryland, which beat the Spartans handily just a week ago and would not have to contend with a big man the caliber of Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis.

But Maryland and Michigan State are two teams that seem to be trending in the opposite direction and it doesn’t bode well for the Terps.

Big Ten tournament

MARYLAND VS. MICHIGAN STATE

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

Thursday, 11:30 a.m.

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

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