PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The ninth-ranked Maryland men’s basketball team entered last Saturday’s game against Michigan State with hopes of capturing its first Big Ten title since joining the conference in 2014.
After a disappointing 78-66 loss, its next opportunity to do so would come at the Rutgers Athletic Center, one of the most difficult places to win a road game in college basketball this season.
A win against Rutgers, or a Michigan State loss to Penn State, would clinch a share of the conference title, but neither scenario fell in favor of the Terps, who lost, 78-67, on Tuesday night for their second straight defeat and third in their past four games.
The No. 16 Spartans also defeated the No. 20 Nittany Lions, 79-71, putting Maryland and Michigan State in a tie for first place in the Big Ten. Maryland can clinch a share of the regular-season title with a win Sunday against Michigan in its regular-season finale.
Rutgers (19-11, 10-9 Big Ten) had three players score in double figures, led by junior guard Jacob Young, who registered 17, as it improved to 18-1 at home. The Scarlet Knights shot 49.2% from the field and hit 43.8% of their 3-point attempts. It’s the fourth straight game the Terps have allowed an opponent to shoot over 40% from deep.
Maryland (23-7, 13-6) shot 38.5% from the field and made just six of its 32 3-point attempts.
“We’re not guarding,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “We guarded the last 10 minutes of the Minnesota game. We really haven’t guarded for 3½ games. ... We’ve done it [defended] all year. So it’s a mindset.”
Rutgers, who entered Tuesday’s game in desperate need of an NCAA tournament resume-boosting win, jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first half, courtesy of an 8-0 run, prompting a timeout by Turgeon. Maryland cut into the lead in the first half, but Rutgers pushed it back to 11 with one minute remaining.
The Terps ended the first half on a 6-0 run to enter halftime down 35-29, despite shooting 2-for-16 on 3-pointers.
A 9-2 run by Rutgers, which made three of its first four shots, to begin the second half pushed its lead to 13.
The Scarlet Knights led by as many as 21 — one shy of the Terps’ largest deficit this season ― and made 56% of their shots in the second half.
“We’ve missed a lot of shots ... but tonight we let it affect our transition defense,” Turgeon said. “We put our heads down when we missed a shot. ... It weighs on you, and it can’t weigh on us. We miss a shot, we’ve got to run our [butts] back and play some defense and we didn’t do that today.”
Sophomore forward Jalen Smith, who recorded his 20th double double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds, said the team has “been lazy at the defensive end and too much worried about the offense.”
Senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. registered 19 points on 6-for-13 shooting and broke a streak of 15 straight missed 3-pointers, dating to Feb. 18.
Maryland got very little outside of its duo of Cowan and Smith. Its remaining three starters combined for 17 points on 6-for-19 shooting.
As Maryland watched Rutgers students storm the court on their team’s Senior Day, it was clear that the Terps once again got the best showing from a team looking to knock off a conference opponent that has been ranked near the top of the Associated Press Top 25 poll all season. But even clearer was that the Terps weren’t at their best, and haven’t been since their nine-game winning streak was ended by Ohio State on Feb. 23.
Turgeon said his team, which has shown so much poise this season in its most adverse moments, has been affected by the “weight of it all”: a nine-game winning streak that vaulted Maryland to the top of the Big Ten standings, ESPN’s “College GameDay" coming to Xfinity Center, the opportunity to clinch the program’s first Big Ten title and all the pressure that comes with it.
The team’s late-season schedule hasn’t offered much help, Turgeon added, with the team playing four games in 10 days, and road matchups sandwiched in between limiting time for recuperation and practice.
But with one game remaining before the Big Ten tournament and then NCAA tournament, the Terps find themselves running out of time to find solutions for the problems that have plagued them over the past four games.
“You don’t get to 23-5 with the schedule we play without being a heck of a basketball team,” Turgeon said. "Every team in the country goes through this, except maybe Kansas, maybe Baylor. The rest of us have to go through it. It just happened to be at the end of the year.
“We’ll get fresh between now and Sunday, and hopefully we’ll play our best basketball.”
No. 25 Michigan@No. 9 Maryland
Sunday, 12 p.m.
Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM