Throughout its three-game losing streak and recent stretch of five defeats in the past six games, Maryland often had offensive lapses and defensive gaffes that prevented the Terps from closing well enough to win.
Playing against a Wisconsin team that arrived at Xfinity Center on Sunday having lost four straight by an average of 14 points and seven of its past eight games, Maryland found itself in a similar situation against the Badgers.
After a 17-2 run to close the first half had helped the Terps take a 10-point lead at halftime, the lead evaporated in a little over nine minutes and Maryland seemed to be teetering.
Sophomore guards Anthony Cowan Jr. and Kevin Huerter helped keep the Terps upright and avoid their worst home loss of the season. Combining for 23 of their team’s last 28 points, Cowan and Huerter led Maryland to a 68-63 victory.
“It felt like we had to win it a couple of times, to be honest,” Huerter said after Maryland’s first victory since beating Minnesota at home Jan. 18.
Cowan finished with 23 points, including a pair of contested jumpers late in the shot clock, as well as four straight free throws in the final nine seconds. Huerter added 19 points, six rebounds and four assists, with a pair of late drives to give the Terps a lead they nearly blew.
Both players were 6-for-6 from the foul line, and the Terps hit a season-best 18 of 19 overall.
“Those are the type of plays you’ve got to make if you want to be considered among the better players in the league, the leaders on your team. You’ve got to learn to win games at the end of the game like we did," said Huerter, whose two drives helped break a 60-all tie.
Maryland (16-9, 5-7) was fortunate that Wisconsin freshman guard Brad Davison showed his inexperience at the end. After his 3-point shot had cut Maryland’s 64-60 lead to a point with 10.4 seconds to go and a pair of free throws by Cowan made it three, Davison inexplicably drove the lane with less than two seconds remaining in the game.
Though his shot with a second left was blocked by redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley to set up another pair of free throws by Cowan, the play had been designed for him to take a 3-point shot.
Said redshirt junior center Ethan Happ, who led Wisconsin (10-14, 3-9) with 18 points and nine rebounds: “It’s a tough lesson to learn, but down three you can go to the hoop hoping for an and-one [3-point play]. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but he's young and he’s going to learn that lesson next time."
Shaky starts in both halves for Terps
After starting poorly in Wednesday’s 75-67 loss at No. 3 Purdue, Maryland wanted to get out of the gate faster Sunday than it did at Mackey Arena, where the Terps trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half and 11 at halftime.
After starting poorly in the second half of last Sunday’s 74-68 loss at home to then-No. 6 Michigan State and watching a 13-point lead disappear quickly, the Terps wanted to build on the 10-point lead they took into their locker room at halftime against the Badgers.
The Terps got off to a rough start against the Badgers as well, scoring just one basket in the first 7½ minutes of the game and eventually falling behind by as many as seven points, 18-11 on a 3-point play by Happ with 9:23 left in the first half.
After their big run ended with 10 straight points before halftime, the Terps scored just one basket in the first 4½ minutes of the second half as Wisconsin started the half on a 21-9 run to take a 44-42 lead on a 3-pointer by Davison with 9:40 left in the game.
“I was just disappointed the way we started the [second] half. We were up 13 a week ago in the same building, probably a better team,” Turgeon said later. “The speech [at halftime] was ‘All right, c’mon guys, we’ve been here before, let’s handle it better.
“We were not very good. We were really bad, to be quite honest with you, at the start of the second half. Shot selection, defense, concentration, everything. I was mad at them so I didn’t call timeout. We got through it. We were still up five at the media [timeout]. I thought we were lucky to be there.”
In this case, the Terps were fortunate not to be playing against two of the best three teams in Big Ten, but against one of the bottom three teams, perhaps the team playing worse than any other.
Huerter said that last Sunday’s game against the Badgers, one of several this season in which the Terps started a second half poorly after playing well at the end of the first half, has become almost a hurdle for the players.
“A couple of us were talking about it,” Huerter said of the sluggish start to the second half. “I think we talk about it a little too much, players-wise, about how we've got to start the half right. … We start pushing things like that, taking bad shots. It seems like we can’t get a stop to start the half.”
Obi’s contribution is big
Graduate transfer center Sean Obi, who has been used infrequently much of the season, showed his value toward the end of the first half Sunday. With Happ schooling freshman center Bruno Fernando and taking advantage whenever the Terps double-teamed him, Obi was inserted for the last 7:46 of the half.
Not only did Obi hold Happ scoreless during that stretch, he also grabbed five of his six rebounds and scored on 3-point play to put Maryland ahead 31-23 with 1:05 left before a steal and layup by Cowan with six seconds left push the lead to 10.
“Sean was terrific,” Turgeon said. “We couldn’t double him [Happ]. And he made us pay when we doubled. We weren’t reacting. … Sean was able to do a great job with him, I thought we were active. And then during that stretch we were much better offensively. We finished with a 17-2 run. I think in the end that was the difference.”
Said Obi, who will likely play some against Penn State’s Mike Watkins on Wednesday night in State College: “Making tough plays. Besides the rebounding, making hustle plays, taking charges, diving down for loose balls. Whatever it takes to win.”
WISCONSIN—Happ 7-15 4-6 18, Ford 4-5 0-0 12, Reuvers 5-9 2-3 13, Davison 5-14 0-0 12, Iverson 3-7 2-2 8, Moesch 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 0-2 0-0 0, Illikainen 0-1 0-0 0, Schlundt 0-2 0-0 0, Pritzl 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 24-57 8-11 63.
MARYLAND—Fernando 2-6 2-2 6, Wiley 2-7 0-0 4, Cowan 8-14 6-6 23, Morsell 1-4 3-4 5, Huerter 6-12 6-6 19, Tomaic 1-1 0-0 2, Obi 1-1 1-1 3, Nickens 2-2 0-0 6. Totals 23-47 18-19 68.
Halftime—Maryland 33-23. 3-point goals—Wisconsin 7-21 (Ford 4-5, Davison 2-7, Reuvers 1-4, Iverson 0-1, Schlundt 0-1, Pritzl 0-1, Happ 0-2), Maryland 4-14 (Nickens 2-2, Cowan 1-5, Huerter 1-5, Wiley 0-2). Fouled out—None. Rebounds—Wisconsin 26 (Happ 9), Maryland 25 (Fernando 9). Assists—Wisconsin 12 (Happ 3), Maryland 10 (Huerter 4). Total fouls—Wisconsin 18, Maryland 14.