Mark Turgeon knew how hard his Maryland men's basketball team had played and how close to the finish line — or the final buzzer — his 21st-ranked Terps had come Friday night against No. 24 Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.

He also knew it wasn’t enough, as the scoreboard reflected in a 69-61 loss to the Badgers and how miserable, deep down inside, he felt. What seemed to annoy Turgeon more than the outcome were the questions he was asked afterward.

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“We battled,” he said. “I was really proud of my team tonight up until about seven minutes to go in the game. We had to overcome a lot — a great building with great players, unbelievable foul trouble and we just kept battling.”

But in losing for the third time in four games — dropping to fifth place in the Big Ten and, at least for now, out of the top four spots that guarantee a double-bye in next month’s tournament — the numbers were hard to ignore.

Start with Maryland, the top free-throw shooting team in league play coming in at a nearly 79 percent clip, making just three of eight from the line and missing several key free throws down the stretch. Turgeon chose to look at Wisconsin shooting 23, making 14.

No. 21 Maryland sloppy at foul line, leading to 69-61 men's basketball loss at No. 24 Wisconsin

No. 21 Maryland shot just 3-for-8 from the free-throw line, killing its chances of hanging onto its lead in what turned out to be a 69-61 loss to No. 24 Wisconsin at the Kohl Center on Friday.

“The number is 23-8,” Turgeon said a bit testily. “They shot 23, we shot eight. OK? We shot 150 more free throws than our opponents. They’ve shot less free throws than their opponents. Tonight, what’s happened all year didn’t happen. We missed some free throws, but hell, we’ve got to get there a little more.”

Or the fact that Maryland again lost to a ranked team on the road. He wasn’t reminded that he’s now 0-18 against ranked teams away from College Park in his eight years with the Terps, but Turgeon didn’t think that played much of a factor either.

“It’s not about ranked,” he said, a little more frustrated. “I mean, [Wisconsin forward] Ethan Happ’s pretty special. It’s not about ranked. We played our tails off, we’re young. I hate losing and it stinks. My kids battled. Are you serious out there? 23-8. My guys battled, we just weren’t good enough in the end. It’s not about being ranked or not ranked.”

Mostly, Turgeon gave credit to the Badgers, who won their fifth straight and haven’t lost since a 64-60 defeat at Xfinity Center 19 nights ago, and to Happ, who helped get both of Maryland’s big men, sophomore center Bruno Fernando and freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) into second-half foul trouble.

Happ finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, but Wisconsin (16-6, 8-3) won because the senior forward and likely All-American had plenty of support from sophomore guard Brad Davison, who scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, and sophomore forward Aleem Ford, who like Davison hit a couple of big 3-pointers down the stretch.

“In the end, I thought they made every shot,” Turgeon said. “Ford made two huge 3s. We made some mistakes in our zone, they hit back-to-back 3s. We were up six and they tied it. And then they’re really hard to guard.

“When Happ’s playing like that, they’re really hard [to guard]. I thought our defense was terrific at time. When both your big guys are in foul trouble and you got an All-American in Happ, you know, you’ve got to pick your poison and they made some shots late.”

Freshman point guard Eric Ayala, who carried the Terps (17-6, 8-4) to a couple of nine-point leads in the first half and finished with a team-high 18 points, chose to credit the Badgers rather than blame any of his teammates.

“They made a lot of tough shots,” said Ayala, who did early and finished 7-for-11 overall, including 4-for-5 on 3-pointers. “A lot of big shots from 3. It was tough. The crowd was into it. They executed very well on the offensive end.

“The second half they just made a lot of tough shots. It kind of reminded me of last game [Jan. 14 at College Park]. We put it away last game, this time we didn’t. We got to tune in more on the defensive end.”

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Finding holes in the zone

With Fernando and Smith on the bench for a stretch in the second half, Turgeon went to a zone similar to the one he used in his team’s road win Jan. 8 at Minnesota, when the Terps reversed an eight-point deficit early in the second half and blew out the Gophers.

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While it seemed to work early on, Wisconsin coach Greg Gard adjusted during a couple of timeouts by not having four players on the perimeter with Happ inside by moving at least one of his guards inside to space the floor better.

Asked why he went to the zone, Turgeon said: “My two best post players, who might be the best frontcourt if they stuck around, had three fouls [each]. So I was kind of forced to do it.”

Said Ayala: “We haven’t practiced it as much. It was a kind of on-the-fly thing. We got our first couple of stops. We’ll have time to practice it now back home and focus on things like that.”

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Fernando’s fouls costly

After not getting any fouls in Maryland’s 70-52 win Tuesday at home over Northwestern, and just one in the first half Friday, the 6-foot-10 Angolan picked up his second and third foul 58 seconds apart early in the second half.

Both were drawn by Happ, at either end of the court. Happ then drew the third foul on Smith on what became a three-point play. What had been a five-point lead at halftime and a 40-33 lead early in the second half quickly disappeared.

“Obviously my team needs me on the court to be the team we are and do the things we are able to do on the court a lot,” Fernando said. “Picking up those two fouls in the second half at the beginning and having to be on the bench a lot — like 10 minutes or so — hurts the team in a lot of ways.”

Fernando, who played just 25 minutes and wound up with 13 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth straight double double and 14th of the season, thought his team’s poor free-throw shooting didn’t help.

“It hurt us a lot,” he said. “We talk about free throws a lot and sometimes you win games on the free-throw line. To miss those free throws we need tonight hurt us. We couldn’t get any closer than we did. I missed one and they made a 3-pointer right after the free throw. You’ve got to give them credit.”

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Another game-closing run — by the opponent

For the second time in three games, Maryland was outscored decisively down the stretch. While not as dramatic or dominant as the 26-10 run by Illinois last week at Madison Square Garden, the Badgers finished on a 15-6 run that ended with a meaningless basket by the Terps.

“As a team, they got hot.” Fernando said. “Team is playing at home with their home crowd, you can’t allow them to get hot. They got hot, they fed off their crowd and kept making shots. We almost couldn’t get anything on the offensive end.”

Ayala’s hot start

Though it was overshadowed by the defeat, Ayala’s stretch in the first half when he made his first five shots, including three 3s, was pretty impressive. But it didn't surprise Fernando.

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“We see all those things he did tonight every day in practice,” Fernando said. “It’s not surprising to any of us. He’s getting a lot more comfortable with our system and our offense. Just creating things for himself. He’s a very unselfish player. He made a lot of tough shots for us tonight.”

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