Ann Arbor, Mich. — Until this year, the Maryland men’s basketball team had won more than its share of close games in the Big Ten under Mark Turgeon.
The odds of losing as Maryland did Monday night at Michigan were bound to catch up with Turgeon and his Terps.
But the way they lost — after leading by as many as 14 in the first half and after trailing by as many as 10 in the second half — only made what transpired in the final three seconds at the Crisler Center even more crushing.
Given what the Terps have gone through in the past few weeks, losing forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender with season-ending injuries, a win over the No. 23 Wolverines would have helped get the Terps back on track toward a fourth straight NCAA tournament bid.
After getting crushed by 30 on the road at then-No. 1 Michigan State and by 21 at now-No. 22 Ohio State, the Terps showed the kind of resolve Turgeon was looking for from his undermanned, relatively inexperienced bunch.
Except they have nothing to show for it.
Here’s some observations and opinions on Maryland's 68-67 loss to Michigan:
Debate continues about defense on final play.
It’s hard to tell how many television sets in the Baltimore-Washington corridor were turned off in disgust after watching what unfolded in the final 3.2 seconds after Kevin Huerter’s 3-pointer had given the Terps a 67-66 lead.
Turgeon will take his share of heat for what happened, but after listening to sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. talk after the game, it seems as if the players got so excited about what Huerter had done that they didn’t listen to what their coach was telling them.
While never a fan of letting an inbounds passer have an unimpeded look at the entire court — having covered the 1992 Duke-Kentucky game when Rick Pitino didn’t have any of his players guard Grant Hill, who threw the pass to Christian Laettner — many coaches go for an extra defender in the frontcourt.
So Turgeon is certainly not alone in that regard, but when your team gets beat after not guarding the inbounds passer, the coach is going to be criticized.
To his credit, Turgeon took the blame for the way Michigan’s Isaiah Livers got the ball to senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman, who caught it about 40 feet from the basket and started driving before being tripped by freshman Bruno Fernando and making two free throws — the 999th and 1,000th points of his career.
Cowan, who was defending in the frontcourt, said he should have turned around instead keeping his back to the inbounds pass. In fact, that might have been what Turgeon told him during the huddle when Michigan set up its final play.
“Don’t blame Anthony,” Turgeon said. “I didn’t get my point across to my players. We don’t want them catching the ball going downhill. We want them catching the ball in front of us. I just didn’t do a very good job. Take Anthony’s [name] out of that. Put mine in it.”
Stretch of 3-point shots killed the Terps again.
After allowing the Spartans to hit 16 of 28 3-point shots in East Lansing 11 days ago and watching the Buckeyes make 17 of 29 in Columbus last week, Maryland didn’t do a bad job on the perimeter for most of the game against the Wolverines.
While Michigan shot 11 of 26 from beyond the arc, the seven straight 3s the Wolverines hit to start the second half — many of them uncontested after the Terps tried to go over screens rather than under them, allowing the shooter a good amount of space — ultimately decided the game.
Granted, that junior center Moe Wagner is perhaps the best 3-point shooter among the Big Ten’s big men makes it difficult to stay with the 6-11 German at times. Cowan talked Sunday about some of the 3-point defensive woes being partly the result of helping too much inside and giving players on the wings and corners too much space to shoot.
It’s interesting that the Terps went into the Big Ten schedule as the league’s best 3-point defenders — though much of that had to do with some of the teams the Terps were playing. Remember the night when UMBC took a six-point lead at halftime after making just four of 19 in the first half, and Turgeon commented about how it would have been an even larger deficit if the Retrievers had made them?
That’s what happened in Maryland’s recent road losses.
The Terps weren’t playing UMBC.
Depth issues will be an issue for awhile — maybe the whole season.
The Terps only had eight healthy scholarship players going into Monday’s game, and Turgeon wound up playing seven of them, along with walk-on Reese Mona. Graduate transfer Sean Obi was again not used, largely because of how mobile Wagner is and how small the Woverines go at times.
Regardless of whether Turgeon and Cowan say the minutes are not affecting him — he played 40 again — there were times against the Wolverines that you had to wonder if it’s a problem. After two games with no turnovers, Cowan had six against Michigan.
As tough a competitor as Cowan has been — a solid contender for first-team All-Big Ten given all he is being asked to do and has done — one of the turnovers in the second half came with nobody within five feet of him.
Cowan and Huerter missed front ends of one-and-ones as the Terps were trying to get back in the game in the second half. Given how clutch both players typically are at the foul line, it appeared that at least some of that was caused by fatigue.
Getting Dion Wiley back after he missed his second straight game with a concussion is probably not going to affect Cowan, or even Huerter, that much since most of Wiley’s minutes are being taken by senior wing Jared Nickens and freshman guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph).
Turgeon talked after the game about wanting to give Huerter and Cowan more time off from practice just to rest for the games, but being unable to do so because he only has 10 healthy players, three of whom are walk-ons.
Unless someone else is suddenly going to develop into an adequate backup for Cowan, this could only get worse as the season wears on. The way Huerter limped out of the building Monday after getting kneed in the calf early in the second half, he’s going to need to find someone to back him up as well.
A win over the Wolverines might have masked some of Maryland's issues, such as depth and 3-point defense.
A loss, unfortunately, exposed a few of them even more.