MADISON, WIS. — From the Maryland men’s basketball team’s late execution to Aaron Wiggins rediscovering his jump shot to whether the No. 17 Terps will even be in the Top 25 next week, here are three takeaways from Tuesday night’s 56-54 loss at Wisconsin.
Maryland lost the game even before Darryl Morsell’s turnover and Brad Davison’s 3-pointer.
Mark Turgeon said that his team “blew it” before the junior guard tried to force an inbounds pass to Anthony Cowan Jr. with 13 seconds left and Maryland leading by one. Davison deflected the ball off Morsell as he stood watching behind the baseline.
The Terps blew it before Davison, following a Wisconsin timeout, came off a screen that left him open on the baseline for the go-ahead 3-pointer. They blew it before Cowan, following a Maryland timeout, missed a contested, straightaway 3-pointer.
Maryland blew it by not calling a timeout as Morsell tried to find Cowan as he was being double teamed. With the ball at the opposite end of the floor from the bench, that’s on the players to do it, and Cowan said after the game that as the team’s senior point guard, it was his job.
But the Terps also blew it earlier than that, with poor decisions and sloppy execution down the stretch.
There was sophomore guard Eric Ayala, with his team leading 49-46, missing a long 3-pointer six seconds after sophomore forward Jalen Smith grabbed an offensive rebound off a 3-point miss by Cowan. There was Ayala turning the ball over after redshirt junior forward Aleem Ford missed a 3-pointer for the Badgers on the next possession.
There was the lob pass intended for Smith from Cowan that Wisconsin deflected. It came with 1:03 remaining and the Terps leading 54-53. It also came less than 30 seconds after Cowan had thrown a perfect lob to Smith for a dunk. Did Maryland really think that play was going to work two straight times?
As much as Turgeon said his team made progress in battling the Badgers down to the wire after getting blown out by 18 points Friday at Iowa, the Terps are still a team that makes too many fundamental mistakes to win one- or two-possession games on a regular basis.
Maryland was fortunate to beat Illinois last month at Xfinity Center when Cowan’s long 3-pointer — coming off a broken play — tied the game and the Fighting Illini got careless with the ball and foolishly fouled Cowan, who hit the winning free throw.
Tuesday’s ending was eerily reminiscent of the loss at Seton Hall, when another poorly executed inbounds pass was picked off.
The Terps should be back home getting ready for Purdue on Saturday after a tough road win, not facing almost a must-win situation to keep their once-promising season from imploding any further. But that’s where they are.
It was good to see Aaron Wiggins resemble the player he was earlier this season, but the Terps need more than three players who can score.
It’s one thing to have three players score in double figures — as Maryland had with Smith (18 points), Cowan (16) and Wiggins (15) — but the other six players who entered the game combined for seven points. Wisconsin had similar imbalance with 11 bench points, but at least eight of them came from redshirt sophomore wing Kobe King.
Morsell and Ayala had two points apiece and were a combined 1-for-9 from the floor and 0-for-4 from 3-point range, and neither got to the free-throw line.
Though certainly more important to Maryland for his defense, Morsell appears to be more hesitant looking to score than he was earlier in the season. Ayala is in the midst of a tough stretch offensively — it was his second straight game with just two points — but aside from that rushed 3-pointer, he was better running the team.
The Terps are going to have trouble in the Big Ten if they don’t have more consistent scoring threats than just Cowan, Smith and Wiggins.
Here’s another thought: What happened to the team that was pushing the pace earlier this season, as Maryland did in winning the Orlando Invitational and more recently against Indiana and a little against Ohio State? The Terps outrebounded the Badgers, 35-24, but got few points in transition as Wisconsin slowed the game down to its — uh — turtle pace.
How close are the Terps to dropping out of the Top 25?
Maryland fell seven spots in this week’s AP poll after losing at Iowa, despite beating No. 11 Ohio State three nights earlier. A loss Saturday will certainly open this trap door for Turgeon’s team, but given how many voters seem to be skeptical about the Terps and their often beleaguered coach, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Tuesday’s game do the trick.
As meaningless as the AP poll is when it comes to seeding in the NCAA tournament — Maryland is still No. 11 according to Kenpom.com — and as comfortable as Turgeon has always been when the spotlight isn’t squarely on him and his team, this is starting to look like another team that will fail to live up to the hype.
Maybe the same formula can hold true for the Terps, as happened to Wiggins on Tuesday when Turgeon brought him off the bench for the first time all season. With some of the pressure off, Wiggins had one of his best games in awhile. If Maryland suddenly doesn’t have a number attached to its name, maybe Turgeon will coach and his players will play a little more relaxed.
Turgeon took a different tact this season, saying that he and his players were embracing the expectations as they started the season No. 7 and climbed as high as No. 3. For awhile, it seemed believable, until the losses began to pile up.
Right now, it’s difficult to figure out where this year’s Maryland team is in its development. Turgeon said after the Wisconsin game that the Terps are again a “work in progress” — which could be a bright red flag for Turgeon’s own concern and perhaps confusion for what exactly has transpired.
What helps Maryland is that there are several teams across the country, including a few in the Big Ten, that have unraveled after their own hot starts.
Ohio State had lost four straight and have internal issues with coach Chris Holtmann suspending two players for Tuesday’s game before beating Nebraska at home. Michigan, which many thought would be rebuilding a bit in Juwan Howard’s first season, might be falling back to the pack as well, as evidenced by the Wolverines’ loss at Minnesota on Sunday.
Even Michigan State has shown cracks, losing by 29 at Purdue on Sunday.
The difference is that none of those teams or coaches are in the same precarious situation as Turgeon has been, especially in regard to a fan base that has been critical of him, sometimes fairly and sometimes not, the past five years. Dropping out of the Top 25 after getting so high might not mean much, but it still looks bad.