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Maryland’s defensive lapses are becoming concerning, and other takeaways from loss to Michigan State

Because of his team’s strong defense, Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon has been accepting of occasional scoring droughts. But in the past week, the Terps’ defensive efforts have been concerning as tournament play approaches.

Here are three takeaways from No. 9 Maryland’s 78-66 loss to No. 24 Michigan State on Saturday night.

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For the third straight game, Maryland hasn’t been sharp on defense.

Maryland has played three games over seven days — at Ohio State, at Minnesota and at home for Michigan State — and the start of each game has been characterized the same way: strong shooting efforts for the opposition.

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The Buckeyes made five 3-pointers in the first eight minutes of the game, the Gophers made six of their first seven attempts from 3 and the Spartans made their first three 3-point attempts.

Turgeon and his players haven’t had many answers to their porous 3-point defense in recent games, other than to give credit to their opponents for making shots. Turgeon acknowledged that his team goes through stretches of poor shooting but has been able to rely on its defense to lock in until they regain their shooting touch.

That wasn’t the case Saturday, as the Spartans answered every run from the Terps with a run of their own and continued to make shots, often wide-open, throughout the night. Maryland was unable to keep up with the Spartans’ high-paced offense and senior guard Cassius Winston, who made five of his six 3-point attempts.

“We’ve just been lacking on defense a lot lately,” sophomore forward Jalen Smith said. “We’ve got to get back to our principles of guarding and just got to watch film and fix it up in practice.”

Cowan needs to break out of his slump ASAP.

After senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. struggled to hit shots against Minnesota, Turgeon said he was happy with his other contributions, particularly his control of the game and defense.

A 6-for-15 shooting effort against Michigan State capped what has been a tough week for the Terps’ senior leader.

In Cowan’s past three games, he is shooting 26.5% from the field and has missed all 12 of his 3-point attempts. Cowan said the way teams have defended him in the past week hasn’t changed from the rest of the season — denying him the ball, not giving him clear driving lanes — and he just hasn’t been able to make shots.

Sophomore guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins haven’t been consistent options as a third scorer this season, and they struggled as well Saturday, combining for seven points on 1-for-11 shooting.

When asked how to break out of his shooting slump, a visibly irritated Cowan said multiple times, “I’ve got to figure it out.”

“Yeah, he was frustrated. He’s just got to play the way he’s played all year,” Turgeon said. “Guys aren’t making shots. Anthony’s been great. He’s a warrior. It just wasn’t his night.”

Turgeon is making strides in his search for depth.

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After Saturday’s game, Turgeon again said he’d “like to be a little bit deeper team,” a recurring talking point this year.

In a hyped matchup, Maryland received solid efforts from sophomore forward Ricky Lindo Jr. and freshman guard Hakim Hart, who both played with more confidence and assertiveness.

Lindo played eight minutes, recording three points and four rebounds. In one stretch in the first half, Lindo bodied up well on Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman in the post, forcing an overthrow and turnover. He then hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 23.

Hart, who has recently been playing ahead of sophomore guard Serrel Smith Jr., logged almost 10 minutes and made his first 3-pointer since Dec. 4 against Notre Dame. It was an encouraging sign for Hart, who several teammates have said practices as well as anybody on the team.

“It’s amazing because Ricky is one of our best practice players and Hakim is one of our best practice players, believe it or not,” Jalen Smith said. "I told [Hart] right when the game was over and we were sitting in the locker room, I told him it was great to see him build his confidence today.

“A lot of things that he did in this big game, he wouldn’t have done in a normal game. So I gave him props for that and I just told him to keep fighting.”

No. 9 Maryland@Rutgers

Tuesday, 7 p.m.

TV: BTN

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

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