From the return of rampant defensive miscues to the importance of the regular-season finale, here are three takeaways from the Maryland men’s basketball team’s 60-55 loss at Northwestern on Wednesday night.
Maryland’s defense resembled its early-season struggles.
Through Maryland’s five-game winning streak, it emphasized an active defense that has the speed and length to switch defenders on any ball screens. And through the first four minutes of Wednesday’s game, the Terps (15-11, 9-10 Big Ten) continued to look like that team as they scored the first nine points and forced Northwestern to miss its first five shots and commit three turnovers.
As the game progressed, Maryland was lethargic on both ends of the court, especially on defense. The Wildcats quickly made shots, and some clever off-ball screens cleared the way for those makes. But the Terps weren’t as crisp with their rotations and defenders didn’t switch with the cohesiveness that we’ve seen over the past two weeks.
It left Maryland coach Mark Turgeon speechless after the game.
“I’m beyond frustrated, guys,” he said. “Same game plan, I’ll just leave it at that. ... A lot of mistakes on defense.”
The Terps also had trouble late in the game with center Ryan Young. The 6-foot-10 redshirt sophomore checked in for the final 2:32 and recorded four points and three rebounds as Northwestern scored the final six points and held the Terps 0-for-7 down the stretch. The Wildcats used screens to get Young matched up on junior guard Aaron Wiggins and he took advantage of the size mismatch. He backed Wiggins down for a go-ahead post layup with 90 seconds remaining.
It was a smart adjustment from Northwestern coach Chris Collins to use Maryland’s tendency to switch against itself. But it looked eerily similar to the Terps’ early-season struggles against big men in the conference.
“We usually fly around, doubling the post, different stuff,” senior guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) said. “We were trying to switch it up, go back and forth, double, not double. But [Young] was definitely effective. We were doubling in the first half, they were kicking, making a lot of 3′s, getting good shots, open looks.
“That’s what we’re going to see if we keep playing [in the postseason]. So we’ve just got to get back to the drawing board and just get better.”
On a team with a tight rotation, Maryland didn’t get much help outside of two starters.
It was a rough night offensively for anyone not named Wiggins or Morsell. The two combined for 40 of Maryland’s points and Wiggins set a career-high with 26. The rest of the Terps’ starters shot 5-for-26 and their struggles were magnified as the bench, which only goes three players deep, failed to record a point.
Sophomore Donta Scott got the scoring going with a nice faceup jumper but missed his next six shots and two of four free throws late in the close game. He also committed five turnovers and never looked comfortable on offense, as evidenced by his three traveling violations.
It was a rare off night for junior guard Eric Ayala, who Turgeon said played his best all-around game last Sunday against Michigan State. Ayala’s streak of eight straight games with at least 10 points ended as he recorded five points on 2-for-12 shooting. His first shot attempt, an open layup after blowing by a defender, rimmed out, a sign of things to come.
Given Ayala’s strong play on offense and Scott’s all-around contributions in recent weeks, it’s fair to label it a bad game for the two and leave it at that. But as Maryland gears for the Big Ten tournament and what it hopes will be an appearance in the NCAA tournament, it needs its starters to be more productive on offense.
The regular-season finale against Penn State got a little more important.
Wednesday’s loss came to a Northwestern team that lost 13 straight games before breaking the slump in a win over Minnesota. And while it isn’t necessarily going to count as a bad defeat — it qualifies as a Quad 2 game — it was still an underwhelming performance for a Maryland team that had put together its best stretch of the season with five straight wins.
It marks Maryland’s first defeat in nearly a month, and while it won’t dramatically knock down a team that was pegged as high as a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament by some projections, it’s essential for the Terps to quickly turn things around against Penn State (9-13, 6-12).
A second straight loss to close the regular season would put even more pressure on Maryland to win a game in the Big Ten tournament, something the Terps haven’t done since the 2015-16 season. Maryland is still in a good position to make the NCAA tournament, backed by five Quad 1 wins and one of the toughest schedules in the country. But a resounding response against the Nittany Lions and in the conference tournament would help to salvage its seeding position.
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