LINCOLN, NEB. — Seven games. Thousands of miles. More than a month of frustration.
The opponents have changed for the Maryland men’s basketball, as have the venues. On Tuesday night, it was Nebraska and a sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena.
While a 70-66 defeat to the red-hot Cornhuskers didn’t play out exactly the same way as the previous six road losses, the mood in the visitors’ dressing room was no different for the Terps.
“Like it is after every loss,” sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr. “It’s quiet. Nobody wants to talk. All we’ve got to do is move on.”
Except for holding a halftime lead on the road for the first time since going up by 10 on Michigan in Ann Arbor on Jan. 15 — Maryland led Nebraska 32-30 on freshman center Bruno Fernando’s follow on a short miss by Cowan right before the buzzer — it was all too familiar for the Terps.
“It’s like we can’t get away from, every team just goes on a crazy run at the beginning of the second half and it’s hard for us to get back,” Cowan said.
Seeing Nebraska turn its two-point deficit into a seven-point lead after sophomore guard Kevin Huerter picked up his third personal foul 47 seconds into the second half, Maryland cut it back to one with 1:40 left in the game.
But Cowan’s 3-point shot from the right wing with 53 seconds left — and eight seconds left on the 30-second shot clock — was blocked by Nebraska guard Glynn Watson Jr. The Cornhuskers then made their last six free throws to hold on.
“I thought we were going to get over the hump. … We couldn’t get a [good] shot, a heck of a play by Watson,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “Watson made an unbelievable block on that play.”
It was the sixth straight win for Nebraska (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) and helped the Cornhuskers secure their first 20-win regular season since 1992-93. It was the seventh straight road defeat for the Terps (17-11, 6-9), who have lost eight games this year by six points or fewer.
Asked whether there was a sense of desperation for both teams trying to improve their NCAA tournament chances, Turgeon said: “Oh, I don’t know. We compete in every game. We’re going to compete our tails off on Saturday [at home against Rutgers] and we’re going to continue to compete. We just want to win.”
The Cornhuskers were led by redshirt junior guard James Palmer Jr., who scored 24 of his game-high 26 points in the second half with Huerter, and subsequently freshman guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) in foul trouble.
Huerter picked up his fourth foul with 10:22 left in the game and Morsell got his fourth a little more than three minutes later. It was during that stretch that Palmer, who grew up in Prince George’s County and played a year at St. John’s College High with Cowan, scored 15 straight points for Nebraska.
“He got hot obviously. Two of my best defenders to guard him both had [four] fouls," Turgeon said. “But we made some mistakes, too. We let him get to the rim. Our [center] should have been standing right at the rim. It was pretty frustrating, to be quite honest with you.”
Said Fernando: “Obviously it’s tough for us. Those are two of our best players. It’s tough to be on the court without them. We spend so much time on the court together — once they’re out, it’s like a different look for us. It’s always hard to be in that situation for us.”
Turgeon wasn’t shocked to see Palmer, who transferred to Nebraska from Miami, go on a one-man scoring binge given what he has done for the Cornhuskers this season and what he did in high school.
“I’ve watched him since he was a sophomore in high school,” Turgeon said. “Nothing he did tonight surprises me.”
Said Cowan, who uses the same trainer at home as Palmer: “I was trying to tell some of our players some of his moves, but obviously he got his shot off.”
The defeat ruined Fernando’s best all-around performance since coming to Maryland.
After missing his first two shots, the 6-foot-10 Angolan hit nine of 14 overall to finish with 21 points, tying his career high. He also had nine rebounds and a career-high five assists as well as two blocked shots.
“He played really good,” Cowan said. “I think he did a really good job of just taking his time and make moves. When he does that, he’s a lot more efficient.”
Fernando summed up the mood of his teammates after leaving the visitors’ locker room.
"We’re just tired of it,” Fernando said of the road losing streak. “We’ve been working so hard. We’ve been battling every single game. We’ve been fighting, giving our best — we’re just coming up short.”