Michigan coach John Beilein said that his team’s home loss to archrival Michigan State to begin last week got its attention. It showed in an easy home win over Nebraska Thursday and Sunday’s win at No. 17 Maryland.
So will Maryland’s two straight losses — Wednesday’s 17-point demolition at Penn State and Sunday’s loss to the No. 9 Michigan — help the Terps focus better on Friday’s senior night game against Minnesota and in next week’s Big Ten tournament?
While Maryland played a lot better than it did against the Nittany Lions, a game in which the Terps trailed by 22 points at halftime and by as many as 29 points in the second half, beating the Wolverines usually takes a suffocating defense or precise offense.
Unfortunately, the defense that helped Mark Turgeon’s team overcome many of its offensive inefficiencies in beating then-No. 12 Purdue at home Feb. 6 and then-No. 21 Iowa on the road Feb. 19 was not on display down the stretch at Xfinity Center.
Here are 3 takeaways from Maryland’s 69-62 loss to Michigan:
1. The play of the two junior guards was the difference in the game.
As big a part as freshman shooting guard Iggy Brazdeikis played in his team’s victory with a game-high 21 points, the reason the Wolverines were able to overcome Maryland’s 22-16 lead in the first half to lead 28-24 at half, and then again down the stretch, was the play of Zavier Simpson.
Simpson finished with 12 points by hitting 6-of-7 from the field — including a perfect 4-of-4 on his sweeping floor hooks — and also distributed 10 assists, with only two turnovers. He probably would have had even more impressive numbers if he hadn’t been in a little foul trouble.
Showing why he is Michigan’s most valuable player — and doing it without senior wing Charles Matthews, who sat out with an ankle injury — Simpson orchestrated the team’s offense and played a big part in its defense as well.
Simpson also badly outplayed Anthony Cowan Jr.
While Cowan wasn’t a no-show for all but the last 15 minutes as he was in State College, when he was all but invisible until making a few shots down the stretch, Cowan was almost too noticeable in the way he kept missing shots Sunday.
At one point he had missed 10-of-11 shots and despite Turgeon saying afterward that Cowan was a bit unlucky, many of them weren’t close. Melo Trimble, who was among the many former stars in attendance Sunday, used to have games like this, too.
The difference is that Trimble would start making big shots with the game on the line, which Cowan has done on occasion the past two years, but there were times when many would have preferred if freshmen Eric Ayala (4-of-7, 2-of-4 on 3-pointers) or Aaron Wiggins (1-of-2, 1-of-1) had plays called for them to shoot.
2. Maryland missed an opportunity to pick up the pressure when Simpson got into foul trouble in the second half.
With 18:35 left in the game, Simpson picked up his third personal. He was replaced by freshman David DeJulius, who had played a total of 70 minutes this season, including 17 against Nebraska.
At the time, Maryland was down 35-30. It seemed the right time for the Terps to change defenses, either by going to the 2-3 zone that has been effective at times this season or maybe even trying to press DeJulius and speed up the Wolverines.
It would have been fitting to press since Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams, who taught these Terps the 1-2-1-1 he used during his 22-year career at Maryland as well as his other coaching stops, was sitting courtside. It was something Maryland had been working on last week.
The defense never changed and while the Terps did regain the lead briefly, it had more to do with Bruno Fernando blocking shots (a career-high six) than anything Maryland was doing to take Michigan out of its offense.
And Beilein’s team was able to survive the time with Simpson on the bench and no proven point guard on the floor. Though Brazdeikis and sophomore Jordan Poole can handle the ball, they are more apt to mistakes when teams don’t play them straight up.
3. Maryland got some good play from its bench, one of whose members should have been played more than he did.
Part of the reason the Terps were able to get off to a decent start Sunday was the first-half contribution of freshman forward Ricky Lindo Jr., who scored on two straight possessions after coming in when fellow freshman Jalen Smith picked up two quick fouls.
Lindo, who has struggled to finish around the rim lately, grabbed an offensive rebound off a Cowan missed jumper and tapped the ball in. Lindo then cleaned up another Cowan miss with a jam follow on which he was fouled, though he didn’t complete the 3-point play.
The 6-8 forward also did a good job on the defensive boards, and finished with five rebounds to go along with those four points in a little under 12 minutes, all in the first half. He didn’t get off the bench in the second half.
Lindo wasn’t the only Terp to contribute off the bench.
Wiggins, who has been on a bit of a roll of late while averaging a little more than 10 points over the team’s previous five games, got off to a bit of a slow start but made his presence felt in the second half despite limited minutes.
After taking just one shot and picking up two fouls in a little more than five minutes on the court in the first half, Wiggins made a strong move off the break and was fouled, making both free throws to cut Michigan’s lead to 48-45 with 6:34 left.
It was the closest the Terps came and the last time Wiggins took a shot until there was 2:53 to go and he hit a 3-pointer. By then, though, the Wolverines had stretched their lead 58-49 on center Jon Teske’s 3-pointer the previous possession.
At game’s end, Wiggins had scored five points in a little under 16 minutes.
Turgeon likes to say that Wiggins plays starter minutes. But after that being true at Michigan (a career-high 15 in 28 minutes) as well as at Iowa and against Ohio State, when he played 29 in each, it hasn’t been the case the past two games.
Wiggins was arguably Maryland’s best offensive player against Penn State, but he played just 21 minutes. His minutes Sunday were the fewest Wiggins has played since getting 14 minutes in a road win at Minnesota in early January.
Though Wiggins should be a better defender — especially using his length to close on 3-pointers — he is not what would be considered a defensive liability. Turgeon talked Saturday about even starting Wiggins at some point.
Giving him starter’s minutes will not only be a small consolation, but it should also help Maryland’s often-inconsistent offense not have as many lulls that often allow opposing teams to make big runs.