Less than five minutes into the second half Wednesday night against Penn State at Bryce Jordan Center, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon turned toward the players on his bench and pointed to five of them to get to the scorer’s table.
When Turgeon took out his starters with 15:31 remaining, the Terps were already down 25 points. The deficit would grow to as many as 29, first when the starters were out and again after he put them back in a little more than two minutes later.
Asked after the game whether he was trying to send a message, Turgeon said: “No, I was just searching. … I was just trying to find somebody that was going to play hard and play with a little energy in the game and just try to get better.”
With Wednesday night's game threatening to surpass a 26-point neutral-site loss to Iona in Turgeon’s first season as the most lopsided defeat in his eight years in College Park, No. 17 Maryland might have found a morsel of self-respect in the last 15 minutes of a 78-61 defeat.
It was a tiny morsel at that.
The loss was the third straight to the Nittany Lions on the their homecourt in as many years and the worst in what has been a turnaround season for the Terps. But it certainly raised some concerns going into Sunday’s home game against No. 9 Michigan.
Unlike its other two double-digit road defeats in the Big Ten this season — a 14-point loss at Michigan State on Jan. 20 and a 13-point loss to the Wolverines on Feb. 16 — Maryland (21-8, 12-6 Big Ten) was not competitive at all in the first half.
Like the Penn State fans, the Terps didn’t show up.
Maryland was down double digits, 14-3, in a little more than five minutes, cut the lead to single digits just once and trailed 42-20 after two quarters, its largest halftime deficit of the season.
“We've started poorly a lot, so I thought we’d respond, but we never really responded,” Turgeon said. “About the 10-minute mark, you knew we weren’t us tonight. And then there was no fight in us, that was the disappointing part.
“We fought a little bit harder in the second half, even though there was no rhythm whatsoever. What are we, 21-8? So 29 games, we’ve really competed in 27 of them, maybe 27½. We just weren’t here tonight. I can’t explain it. Hopefully we’ll bounce back."
Freshman guard Eric Ayala compared the performance to an "unsettling bug that we have as a team, kind of like a sickness you just wake up one day and you have and you just don’t know how to control it. We just had that day.”
It was an interesting analogy, considering that Ayala left Saturday’s home win over Ohio State in the first half with what he called Wednesday a stomach flu. As for what afflicted the Terps here, Ayala said it was “the whole body.”
Asked if it puts some pressure on his team going into Sunday’s game against the Wolverines, who beat Maryland by 24 on senior day at Xfinity Center last season, Turgeon said: “Hopefully this wakes us up a little bit. It’ll be nice to go home.”
Wednesday’s game was the eighth in the past 11 for the Terps away from Xfinity Center.
“That’s hard man, that’s hard,” Turgeon said. “We have some time to practice. Get ready for postseason. My guys have responded all year. I expect them to. We’re 21-8, we have the fifth-youngest team in basketball. I love my team. We just stunk tonight and I stunk.”
Not-so Happy Valley for the Terps
Since beating Penn State in their first trip to State College as a member of the Big Ten, the Terps have lost their past three games at Bryce Jordan Center. While the previous two were competitive — 74-70 last season and 70-64 in 2017 — Wednesday’s game was not.
Asked if the obvious lack of fans (announced at 9,020) and atmosphere contributed to Maryland’s malaise, Turgeon said: “I think last year Penn State had better players and they won the NIT and we didn’t get invited to it. We beat them at home. The year before, I don’t know what the situation was. And tonight I don’t know what it was.
“We’ve been pretty consistent and we just weren’t ready. If we had played our best game, we’d have been lucky to win. They’re good. They’re good in this building.”
After an 0-9 start, Penn State (12-16, 5-12) has won five of its past seven conference games. One of the losses came in overtime to then-No. 17 Purdue on Jan. 31, when the Nittany Lions led by two and Lamar Stevens was hacked going to the basket.
Stevens lost the ball and Carsen Edwards, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, forced overtime when the Boilermakers pulled away to a 99-90 win. One of the wins was Feb. 12, when Penn State beat then-No. 6 Michigan, 75-69.
“They’re very confident in this building,” Turgeon said. “I can't explain [the losing streak]. If I had an answer, we’d fix it, hopefully.”
Stevens sticks it to Smith
When Maryland beat Penn State in College Park to start the Big Ten season, freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) had one of his best games. He finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
More importantly, he did a terrific job on Stevens, who scored 19 points but needed 24 shots to do it, making just nine. On Wednesday, Stevens scored a game-high 24 points, hitting nine of 17 from the field.
“He’s just really good,” Turgeon said. “I can’t explain it. How he gets his shot off. He made a lot of tough shots. Shot clock going down. Then he made a 3 tonight, and he doesn’t make a lot of those. We just weren’t aggressive defensively early and we let our offense affect our defense. But Lamar’s good and he’s really good in this building.”
Cowan joins select company
With a team-high 15 points against the Nittany Lions, junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. became just the sixth player in Maryland history to have at least 1,300 points and 400 assists. He joined Greivis Vasquez, John Lucas, Johnny Rhodes, Walt Williams and former teammate Melo Trimble.