EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN — Ever since Maryland beat Michigan State in the first two games after the Terps joined the Big Ten four seasons ago, coach Mark Turgeon’s teams have often left the court feeling disappointed.
Except for a thrilling 63-60 win in College Park two years ago on senior day — a game that ended with then-junior guard Melo Trimble hitting a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left, which turned out to be the last big shot of his career — the Spartans have won.
There were close losses after the Terps blew big early leads, as happened when they went up 16 points in the 2015 Big Ten tournament semifinal in Chicago and 13 at Xfinity Center last season.
There was the 64-61 loss in the 2016 tournament semifinals in Indianapolis, when the Terps rallied from a 12-point first-half deficit. And there was the 30-point defeat in East Lansing, Mich., last season, the biggest Big Ten blowout under Turgeon.
Maryland’s loss to No. 6 Michigan State on Monday at Breslin Center, coming hours after the Terps moved up to No. 13 in the Associated Press Top 25, was a letdown after the momentum Turgeon’s team had built during its seven-game winning streak.
Here are three takeaways from Maryland’s 69-55 defeat:
1. The Terps didn’t take advantage of Michigan State forward Nick Ward Jr.’s foul problems.
If someone told Spartans coach Tom Izzo his team — already without junior guard Joshua Langford, who missed his sixth straight game with an ankle injury — would win despite Ward going scoreless and playing just 14 minutes because of foul trouble, he might not have believed it.
But that’s what happened, partly because others came through, including senior forward Kenny Goins (14 points, 12 rebounds, three steals, two blocks), sophomore forward Xavier Tillman (10 points, five blocks) and even little-used freshman Thomas Kithier (four points, two rebounds in four minutes).
But that doesn’t speak to the fact that Maryland failed to exploit Ward’s absence by not pounding the ball inside to sophomore center Bruno Fernando. It also didn’t explain why Turgeon had the 6-foot-10 Angolan on the bench during a crucial 2 1/2-minute stretch late in the first half when the Spartans were in the middle of an 11-0 run to take a 31-20 lead at half.
Fernando played 31 minutes — three minutes above his season average — and finished with respectable numbers: 12 points, 13 rebounds, four assists (also five turnovers) and two blocked shots. The Terps (16-4, 7-2 Big Ten) won several games during their winning streak with similar performances from their big man.
Still, Maryland missed the chance of Fernando, who had just two fouls and drew seven himself, having a monster game with Ward barely on the floor by going to him more often and playing him during the game’s turning point late in the first half.
2. Jalen Smith might be putting too much pressure on himself offensively.
For at least the fourth time this season, it appeared as if the former Mount Saint Joseph star seemed nervous and unable to play up to the level he has demonstrated often during his freshman year.
The first time came in Maryland’s first game against a nationally-ranked opponent. In a 76-71 loss to then-No. 4 Virginia in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 28, Smith hit a couple of early shots, and then disappeared for most of the game.
The next time came in what was supposed to be a homecoming game for Smith and former high school teammate Darryl Morsell against Loyola Chicago in Baltimore on Dec. 8. Smith got into early foul trouble, played just 12 minutes and scored a season-low one point.
It surfaced again three days after Smith put on an impressive 21-point, eight-rebound performance against Minnesota and senior forward Jordan Murphy at Williams Arena, when the 6-10 forward missed all nine shots he took and scored two points against then-No. 22 Indiana at home.
Though Smith did other things — such as grab 10 rebounds — he looked as if he was moving too fast for his own good against the Hoosiers. Maryland’s 78-75 win helped overshadow Smith’s shaky offensive performance, but it seemed as if he felt the eyes of the 40 NBA scouts in attendance staring at him.
Smith’s output against the Spartans — six points, three rebounds and a block in 26 minutes — was underscored by the fact that he again appeared out of sync. As much as Smith got pushed around physically by the stronger and older Spartans, he didn’t seem as poised as fellow freshmen Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala.
Much has been written about Smith potentially being a one-and-done player. With his name virtually gone from the 2019 NBA mock drafts, especially as a potential first-round pick, and with him mentioned as a lottery pick in 2020, it might serve Smith better to not even think about turning pro after his freshman year.
Smith has been honest enough to acknowledge he does get nervous, and his overall performance has been solid enough to likely get him on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team. There were certainly a lot of expectations of him coming out of high school, but Smith needs to not put that many on himself the remainder of the season.
3. Wiggins is again showing the kind of big-time player he was coming out of high school.
The most positive aspect of Monday’s loss was the performance by Wiggins.
Not only did the 6-6 wing follow up a solid showing in Friday’s win at Ohio State with a career-high 15 points, but he showed why his former high school coach, former Maryland point guard Keith Gatlin, said last year that Wiggins was “the best high school shooter I coached” and compared him to former NBA star Allan Houston.
Wiggins scored all his points on 3-pointers, hitting five of nine, and helped spark Maryland’s comeback from an 18-6 deficit with a couple of them. He also narrowly missed a putback dunk, getting blocked by Tillman, at the start of the rally. Aside from his team scoring high, Wiggins finished with six rebounds, including four on the offensive boards.
Former Ohio State star and longtime NBA player Jim Jackson, who was serving as an analyst on Fox Sports 1, was sitting on press row and exclaimed after one of Wiggins’ 3-pointers hit nothing but net, "That kid can really shoot.” Jackson didn’t scoff when it was suggested Wiggins could eventually put up similar numbers to Kevin Huerter.
With Fernando getting constant double teams, and opponents trying to focus as much attention on junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and Smith, as the Spartans did, Wiggins could realistically become Maryland’s next best scoring option for the rest of the Big Ten season.