University of Maryland men's head coach Mark Turgeon talks about the 74-68 loss to Michigan State. (Kenneth K. Lam. Baltimore Sun video)
COLLEGE PARK — The end of the first half Sunday at Xfinity Center couldn’t have gone more perfectly for Maryland had coach Mark Turgeon scripted it himself. In a way, he had, setting up a 3-point shot by senior wing Jared Nickens to help give the Terps a 13-point halftime lead over No. 6 Michigan State.
Fairy tales don’t always come true, especially at Maryland this season.
With four days to prepare and playing against a team that was going on one day’s rest, Maryland saw its lead quickly evaporate amid a run of errant shooting, lazy transition defense, sloppy turnovers and rebounding lapses in what eventually turned into a 74-68 defeat for the Terps before their first announced sellout of the season.
Even after Maryland came back from its own eight-point deficit after the Spartans had taken their first lead with an 18-4 run to start the second half, closing to within 63-61 with 1:44 remaining, two straight Michigan State possessions resulted in four second-chance points on free throws by sophomore guard Cassius Winston.
Asked whether, as Turgeon suggested in his postgame news conference that that the Spartans wanted it more than his Terps, sophomore guard Kevin Huerter said: “The last two minutes, 100 percent. Those are three rebounds if we want to win games, we’ve got to come up. No excuses.”
After making just nine of 33 field-goal attempts, including one of 10 on 3-pointers, in the first half, Michigan State (20-3, 8-2) erased Maryland’s 37-24 halftime lead in a little more than five minutes.
“There’s a reason they were preseason No. 1,” Turgeon said. “They’ve got a lot of pros running around on their side. They’re good. They stepped up. We withstood the first run and kept it tied for a while, but the no box-outs finally caught up with us.”
Huerter led Maryland with 17 points, while sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. finished with 12 points and nine assists. Freshman guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) added 12 points and seven rebounds for the Terps.
Sophomore guard Joshua Langford led Michigan State with 19 points. Winston overcame early foul trouble to finish with 13 points, all in the second half, while sophomore forward Miles Bridges finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
The defeat was the fourth in the past five games for Maryland (15-8, 4-6), the third in which the Terps either held a double-digit lead in the second half or led late in the game. With No. 3 Purdue up next on the road Wednesday night, the season is quickly slipping away.
Turgeon wasn’t interested in talking about letting another opportunity slide by, as happened when his team blew a five-point lead in the final five minutes at Indiana on Monday night or when Huerter’s apparent game-winning 3-pointer was erased by a defensive breakdown in the final seconds at Michigan the previous week.
“I don’t care about that,” Turgeon said. “All I care about is my guys and I want to get better, and we’re getting better. I’m having fun coaching ‘em, and we’ve practiced really well. I want to continue to do that and see where it leads us.”
Maryland, which has improved its rebounding significantly since last season, lost Sunday’s game on the boards, especially on the defensive end. Not only were the Terps outrebounded 46-29 overall, but they also surrendered 19 offensive rebounds. It was the most this season Michigan State had made and Maryland had allowed.
“When you’re scrambling, you don’t rebound as well,” Turgeon said. “We didn’t guard the ball as well as we needed to. They’re bringing nine or 10 guys at you — big strong bodies. A little bit different. You’ve got to want it more. That’s what I told them.”
What was particularly distressing was the performance of Maryland’s big men, in particular senior Michal Cekovsky. The 7-foot-1 Slovakian had just three rebounds in 23 minutes, one more than backup center Sean Obi had in three minutes. Cekovsky’s counterpart, Michigan State sophomore Nick Ward, had 12, including eight on the offensive glass.
“We just couldn’t get a rebound,” Turgeon said. “They had 19 [offensive] rebounds; that's the game. It’s key No. 1 on our scouting report and we talk about it every game; we just didn’t do it. A lot of it is the size and athleticism they have, but other times it was just that we didn’t get it done.”
At one point in his recruiting, it appeared that five-star prospect Jaren Jackson Jr. was headed to Maryland. While the Terps seemingly recovered well by signing four-star prospect Bruno Fernando, their play this season was summed up well by their performances Sunday.
Jackson, the clear front-runner for Freshman of the Year in the Big Ten, finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots — including a big one on a drive by Cowan late in the game — while playing just 20 minutes because of foul trouble.
The 6-11 forward hit four of six shots from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers during Michigan State’s big run to start the second half.
Fernando, whose promising freshman season has been interrupted by three sprained ankles and the flu, finished with just two points, five rebounds and one blocked shot in 25 minutes. The 6-10 Angolan, who came out of Monday’s loss in Bloomington early in the second half after turning his right ankle, missed seven of eight shots from the field, including a couple of follow dunks.
Turgeon was particularly impressed with the block Jackson made on Cowan with the 42 seconds left and the Terps trailing 65-61.
“How long is the guy’s arms?” Turgeon said. “He was at the top of the key, are you serious? Give him credit. He’s going to be an NBA All-Star someday. It was a big-time play.”