University of Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon talks about the loss to Michigan State. (Don Markus, Baltimore Sun video)
EAST LANSING, MICH. — For the first 12 minutes Thursday night at the Breslin Center, Maryland went toe-to-toe, and shot-for-shot, with the best team in men’s college basketball and perhaps the most talented team Hall of Famer Tom Izzo has coached in his 23 years at Michigan State.
Reality quickly followed in what became a 91-61 defeat.
Just as they have been with all but one of their opponents this season — that would be former No. 1 Duke, which beat the Spartans in mid-November — Michigan State was too big, too deep and too good for the Terps, who were more undermanned midway through the game than they were going in.
While Maryland didn’t lose any other players as it did with season-ending injuries to forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender last week, foul trouble on senior Michal Cekovsky and freshman Bruno Fernando left the Terps virtually defenseless.
Cekovsky had three fouls by half and fouled out with 8:29 left, playing only 11 minutes.
Asked whether the loss of Jackson, an All-Big Ten preseason selection, was evident by what happened, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said: “I don’t know if we had five Justins it would have made a difference tonight. They’re a heck of a team. We are who we are, we’ve got to get better.
"I know it sounds crazy when you lose by 30. We got better tonight. There were times when we were pretty good out there against a really good team that shot the ball out of their mind. I’m going to take the positives out of this before we head home and play Iowa Sunday.”
A 15-0 run late in the first half gave by Michigan State (15-1, 3-0) a 44-29 halftime lead, which grew to as many as 34. Sophomore guard Kevin Huerter, who carried Maryland (13-4, 2-2) to a 27-26 lead by scoring 14 points in the first 12 minutes, cooled off.
Anthony Cowan Jr. finished with 26 points for Maryland, one short of his career high. Huerter had 16.
Sophomore center Nick Ward Jr. led Michigan State with 16 points, while sophomore forward Miles Bridges added 15 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Freshman center Jaren Jackson Jr. also scored 15 — shooting 5-for-6 on 3-pointers — in just 16 minutes.
“They made some shots we weren’t expecting them to make,” Turgeon said, referring to the first two career 3-pointers by reserve forward Kenny Goins that contributed to the Spartans shooting 16-for-28 from long range. “I’ve done this a long time and I haven’t had too many teams make 16 3s against us. They’re good, and when they shoot like that they’re great.”
Said Huerter, “The No. 1 team in the country shoots like that, I don’t think a lot of teams in the country are going to beat them.”
Maryland played some of its best offensive basketball in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Led by Huerter’s hot start, the Terps made eight of their first nine shots, including all four Huerter attempted. A hook by Cekovsky gave Maryland a 19-17 lead, then Maryland hung in until Michigan State’s bench and 3-point shooting wore them down toward the end of the half.
At one point with less than eight minutes gone, Maryland had scored more points (19) against the Spartans than it had in the entire first half against UMBC last week (18). After scoring 14 points in the first 12 minutes, Huerter didn’t score during the last 7:48 while Michigan State closed the half on a 15-3 run.
“We ran our stuff really well to start the game,” said Huerter, who after hitting his first four shots finished the night shooting 5-for-10. “We got shots out of our offense and we didn’t really seem to do that the rest of the game, a lot of one-on-one basketball.”
Graduate transfer center Sean Obi, who didn’t play at all the previous two games and has been used sparingly all season, got in when Cekovsky picked up an early foul and then again when Fernando picked up his first. Cekovsky finished the half with three fouls, Fernando with two.
“That hurt, but a lot of those are out of their control,” Huerter said of the fouls on Maryland’s big men. “They know that we need them in the game.”
Obi’s presence against the Big Ten’s more physical teams is going to be important for the Terps this season, but he’s going to have to do more than just set hard screens. He started to doing more toward the end of the first half, pulling down two tough rebounds, including one on which he went to the floor and got fouled.
It’s not that Maryland expects the former Rice and Duke player to do much offensively. As a freshman at Rice, he was one of the country’s high-volume rebounders, and that’s still something he will have to do to stay in the rotation going forward.
Because of the foul trouble on the Maryland big men, Obi and redshirt freshman forward Joshua Tomaic got to play a lot more than they had recently. Tomaic, who played just five minutes against Penn State, started the second half because of Cekovsky’s three first-half fouls.
Obi played 16 minutes, and Tomaic played 16.
.“Sean and [Josh] haven’t gotten the reps in practice that other guys have, especially the guys that have gotten hurt, so they’re going to get better as the year goes on,” Huerter said. “It was kind of tough on those guys to kind of get thrown in the fire.”
In what likely will be a trend that carries through the season, Cowan played all but the final 1:38 and Huerter came out only briefly in each half. Cowan played 40 minutes in his previous game.
Unlike last year, when Cowan and Huerter seemed to wear down as their minutes piled up, both players seem to rarely tire. Cowan, in particular, appears to be as fresh late into the second half as he was early in the game. Huerter cooled off after a hot start, but it didn’t appear to be because of fatigue.
The problem is that Turgeon gets more out of both his sophomore guards than he does out either redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley or senior wing Jared Nickens. Wiley hit his first 3-pointer shortly after coming into the game, but didn’t do much after that. Nickens hit a late 3-pointer.