Four days after holding No. 12 Purdue to 18 points in the second half of its biggest win of the season, No. 24 Maryland found itself in a similar defensive vise Saturday against No. 6 Michigan at Crisler Center.
Having scored the fewest points in a half this season (18), the Terps extricated themselves by cutting an early 15-point deficit to nine by halftime and to three midway though the second half.
But the Wolverines, who came in ranked second in the country in defensive efficiency, put the clamps on again with the game on the line and Maryland succumbed, losing, 65-52, and scoring its fewest points in a game this season.
Freshman wing Aaron Wiggins fueled the Terps’ comeback, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the deficit to single digits toward the end of the first half and finishing with 15 points, tying a career high.
Eventually, Wiggins and Maryland (19-7, 10-5 Big Ten) stopped hitting as the Wolverines pulled away to improve to 16-0 at home this season. It was the 22nd straight victory at home overall for Michigan (23-3, 12-3). The Wolverines are 9-1 against ranked opponents at home the past three seasons.
“I thought Michigan was terrific, especially at the defensive end,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “I’m sure they'd like to play a little better offensively. Defensively, they were everywhere dialed in.”
It didn’t surprise Turgeon, considering that the Wolverines were coming off a shocking 75-69 loss at Penn State on Tuesday in a game where coach John Beilein was ejected right before halftime.
“You could tell as a team coming off a loss, they responded well,” said Turgeon, whose teams are now 0-19 against ranked teams on the road in his eight years in College Park.
Still, Turgeon acknowledged that his team dug an early hole for itself by playing carelessly with the ball, not going strong enough to the basket and failing to get back on defense at several key moments.
“The obvious is that we built too big a hole,” Turgeon said. “Against a great team, you can’t do that and we did it. We battled it. We cut it to four and Anthony [Cowan Jr.] missed a layup and we cut it to three with about [10 minutes] to go and we had some bad possessions after that.”
Asked how much of Maryland’s abysmal first half was the result of Michigan’s defense or his own team’s self-destructive tendencies — the Terps had more turnovers (11) than points (10) late in the half — Turgeon said it was both.
“A lot if it was their defense and lot of it was not executing,” Turgeon said. “I thought we missed some bunnies (easy shots) around the rim, Bruno [Fernando] was overthinking it. … It may have kind of snowballed on us. We had some outlandish turnovers in that stretch.
“A lot of it was our turnovers and our inability to score around the rim affected our transition defense a little bit. They had like five uncontested layups in the first half. You can’t beat Michigan not doing that.”
Cowan was even more succinct.
“They got up to play and we didn’t,” Cowan said.
At halftime, Maryland had hit just seven of 24 shots and had committed 13 turnovers. Turgeon said he felt fortunate that his team trailed by only nine points, 27-18, given that Cowan, Fernando and freshman guard Eric Ayala were a combined 1-for-11 from the field. Ayala finished the game scoreless, missing all seven shots, including five 3-pointers. Cowan finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.
“To be down nine, are you kidding me?” Turgeon said. “Against this team in this building? I told the team that. They responded. We just couldn’t guard them. I thought we guarded them better in the first half.
“We gave up a lot of layups, wide-open layups, which we haven’t been doing. Hopefully we’ll learn from it. A lot of it was communication, and just want-to out there. Yeah, we felt lucky to be down nine.”
Maryland took better care of the ball, committing just three turnovers in the second half. But so did Michigan, with no giveaways after halftime.
After a 3-pointer by freshman guard Serrel Smith pulled the Terps to within three, 42-39, with 10:21 to go, Maryland had a chance to tie the game after Michigan center Jon Teske missed a 3-pointer.
But Cowan missed a corner 3-pointer, the first of several misses that seemed to be followed by Michigan 3-pointers, including one by freshman guard Ignas Brazdeikis that pushed the lead back to eight after Cowan missed an uncontested layup.
“I was just disappointed after Anthony missed the layup that we didn’t run back on defense the next two possessions. To me, that was the game,” Turgeon said. “We’ve played through mistakes and through things all year, and today it looked like we didn’t do that at times.”
Tough start for Fernando
Despite scoring all 12 of his points in the second half, the 6-foot-10 Angolan saw his streak of seven straight double doubles end when he pulled down eight rebounds.
But it was on the defensive end that Fernando struggled, allowing the Wolverines to get several easy transition baskets or dunks when he was nowhere to be found.
“He let his offense affect his defense,” Turgeon said. ”We were playing four on five out there defensively, and Bruno has been one of our best defenders, right?
“That was the most disappointing thing. I can handle the missed jump hooks. You’ve got to bring it at the other end. He hasn’t done that all year. The second half he was terrific. He was much better.”
Turgeon also gave credit to Teske for frustrating the Terps in general, but Fernando in particular.
“Teske was everywhere — protecting the rim, ball-screen defense,” Turgeon said.
Wiggins heating up
After hitting four of six shots, including three of five 3-pointers, in 17 minutes during Tuesday’s win over Purdue, Wiggins finished 5-for-10 overall, including 3-for-6 on 3-pointers Saturday. He also had six rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes.
Wiggins has played some of his best games on the road this season, also scoring 15 in a 69-55 loss last month at Michigan State and 11 in a win at Ohio State.
“It’s just remaining confident,” Wiggins said. “My teammates believe in me, my coach believes in me. I’m just going to continue to play hard and hit open shots. That’s all it is.”