State College, Pa. — If this was a trap game for the Maryland men’s basketball team Wednesday night, the fall the No. 17 Terps took at Bryce Jordan Center in the first half was longer and harder than any Mark Turgeon’s teams had taken in his eight seasons in College Park.
Having won four of its past five games — including the first road win over a ranked team in 11 years — Maryland had a lot in common with Penn State fans: the Terps simply didn’t show up.
Trailing by 22 points at halftime, which matched its largest deficit of the season, and by as many as 29 in the second half, Maryland lost to the suddenly red-hot Nittany Lions, 78-61. It was the largest margin of defeat of the season for the Terps.
Only some spirited play that came after Turgeon pulled his starters with 15:31 left and Maryland trailing 49-34 turned the final score into something that helped the Terps regain a morsel of self-respect.
Before that, Maryland (21-8, 12-6 Big Ten) threatened to surpass the 26-point loss to Iona in Turgeon’s first season. In any case, it was the third straight loss in as many years to the Nittany Lions on their homecourt.
The 20-point first half matched a season-low for the Terps — they trailed 32-20 at Michigan State on Jan. 20 before falling behind by 22 in the second half of a 69-55 loss — and was just two points more than Maryland had in the first of a 65-52 loss at Michigan on Feb. 15.
As poorly as Maryland played offensively in the first half, missing 20 of 29 shots (including nine of 10 3-pointers) and committing eight turnovers, the defense and defensive rebounding might have been worse.
Penn State (12-16, 5-12) hit 16 of 31 from the field and shot 5-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half. Junior forward Lamar Stevens led the Nittany Lions with 24 points, including 14 in the second half, while freshman Myles Dread scored 17, with 15 in the first half.
With No. 9 Michigan coming Sunday to Xfinity Center, where a year ago the Wolverines took a 30-point halftime lead and won by 24, it will put more than a little pressure on Maryland to put Wednesday’s nightmare quickly in the past.
Junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 15 points, 12 in the second half, but he also had five of Maryland’s 17 turnovers and no assists. Freshman wing Aaron Wiggins finished with 11 points and five rebounds off the bench.
Those who point to some of Maryland’s embarrassing losses to teams with losing records — this year’s 78-67 defeat to Illinois at Madison Square Garden had been the latest — will have a field day with this one. With a chance to build momentum going into Sunday’s game and with the Big Ten tournament looming, nothing short of a victory will prevent Turgeon’s critics from questioning whether the Terps have again hit another late-season wall.