CHICAGO — Maryland's early exits from the previous two Big Ten men’s basketball tournaments were difficult for fans to digest, yet both were to teams, Northwestern and Wisconsin, that were close in talent and seeding to the Terps.
The same can’t be said for Thursday’s shocking 69-61 defeat to 13th-seed Nebraska in the second round of the 2019 Big Ten tournament at the United Center. It was not only hard to explain, but a lot harder to accept.
Maryland-killer James Palmer Jr. led the undermanned Cornhuskers with 24 points, including 14 in the first half to help his team to a 12-point halftime lead. Senior guard Glynn Watson Jr. added 19 points, including 12 in the second half.
Anthony Cowan Jr. led the 21st-ranked, fifth-seeded Terps with 18 points, but most of his points came after Maryland (22-10) was down double digits in the second half. Sophomore guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) added 14 points and five assists.
Playing with just six scholarship players and seven overall, Nebraska (17-15) looked like the fresher team, not one that had beaten 12th-seed Rutgers on Wednesday. The Cornhuskers will move on to the quarterfinals Friday against the fourth-seeded Badgers.
The Terps simply looked flat, never responding to coach Mark Turgeon’s early pleas of “Wake up … wake up” until early in the second half.
Trailing by as many 14 after a 3-pointer by Palmer, Maryland went on a 9-0 run to cut its deficit to five, on a dunk by Morsell The Cornhuskers seemed to be running out of gas.
But after the under-16 media timeout, Nebraska got its second wind, helped by a second-chance layup by senior forward Tanner Borchardt that started a 9-0 run.
A layup by Palmer, and back-to-back 3-pointers by Palmer and Watson pushed the Cornhuskers back to a 14-point lead and forced Turgeon to call timeout.
Maryland never threatened again, getting as close as eight points with a little under four minutes left and to six on a pair of free throws by Cowan with 2:27 left.
But after sophomore guard Thor Thorbjarnarson missed a wide-open corner 3, the Corhhuskers controlled the rebound and Palmer nailed a 3 from the left wing.
Turgeon will now hope that his team can regroup for the NCAA tournament.
Generally considered a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, the loss to a team that will end its season in the Big Ten tournament will certainly knock Maryland down a slot — and possibly more.
Whoever plays the Terps next will certainly get a blueprint for shutting down Maryland’s two best scorers, Cowan and sophomore center Bruno Fernando.
Using a zone defense to prevent Cowan from driving and double-teaming Fernando nearly every time he touched the ball, the Terps seemed out of sync offensively for most of the game.
Fernando, who was named first-team All-Big Ten, scored three points in the first half, and didn't score in the second half. He was pulled with 4:32 left and the Terps down 10. He went back in, but was not a factor.
Of all of Maryland's postseason defeats, this was the worst, considering the seeding and the fact that Nebraska had finished a down-to-the-wire game against Rutgers on Wednesday night. Turgeon's critics will go on the offensive again, given that this has all the makings of another late-season fade by his Terps.