“We did some nice things offensively until about the eight or nine-minute mark of the second half," said coach Mark Turgeon. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland basketball team's historic 20-2 start is a distant memory, as is talk of the overachieving young Terps winning the Big Ten.
An 89-75 loss Wednesday to red-hot Minnesota at Xfnity Center was the second straight and fourth in the last six games for the No. 24 Terps. It was also the second straight game in which Maryland (22-6, 10-5) watched a halftime lead quickly evaporate amid defensive lapses and long stretches of offensive stagnation.
But coach Mark Turgeon's message to his team in the locker room and to the media in the press room was about the same.
"Remember when we stunk in the first half of games? That was this season," Turgeon said, referring to the first two months of the season, when the Terps seemed to come from behind nearly every time they played. "Then we were great in the second half. It's a long year. It's a lot of games and there's a lot on these kids."
As he was about to exit, Turgeon had these parting words.
"We weren't great tonight, but please give Minnesota all the credit. We'll be ready to go Saturday."
In winning its sixth straight game – Richard Pitino's team hasn't lost since the Terps beat the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis on Jan. 28 – Minnesota (21-7, 9-6) proved to have too many shooters on the perimeter and too many long-armed defenders. The Gophers made eight 3-pointers and blocked eight Maryland shots.
Redshirt senior guard Akeem Springs went off for 10 straight points before picking up two early fouls, then started the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers to erase Maryland's 35-34 halftime lead. Minnesota's surge continued with sophomore guard Dupree McBrayer scoring 14 of his game-high 18 points in the second half.
Springs and McBrayer combined to hit 12 of 17 shots, including 7-of-12 accuracy on 3-pointers to help offset an inconsistent shooting night for junior Nate Mason, the team's leading scorer this season. Meanwhile, Maryland's three main perimeter scorers – junior guard Melo Trimble, freshman guard Anthony Cowan and freshman wing Kevin Huerter – were a combined 10-of-35, including 3-of-15 on 3-pointers.
"We did some nice things offensively until about the eight or nine-minute mark of the second half," said Turgeon, whose team trailed 61-60 with a little over nine minutes left. "It happened so fast. You're right there and then you're down 10.
"We've got a young team out there; it correlates at times. They were great. They were hard to guard. They were moving at a high speed, and we could never catch up. Because we were down, we were going way too fast offensively."
After Cowan hit both ends of a one-and-one with 9:10 to go, McBrayer's jump shot gave the Gophers the lead for good, starting a 14-2 run that broke open the game. The Terps seemed to settle for 3-pointers, missed a couple of wide-open looks and then had trouble stopping Minnesota at the other end.
Asked about his team attempting 3-pointers rather than trying to draw fouls down the stretch, Turgeon said: "It wasn't by design. We had some good looks there. Missed some and weren't able to penetrate the way we wanted. We weren't able to score around the basket the way we wanted. I do think we got sped up."
The offense, which seemed to be moving even faster than the Gophers for much of the first half, stalled.
Redshirt sophomore Ivan Bender, who scored 12 of his team- and career-high 15 points in the first half, tried just two shots in the second half, making one. The 6-foot-8 Bender played center in place of his injured roommate, 7-1 junior Michal Cekovsky.
Junior guard Jaylen Brantley, who joined Bender off the bench to give the Terps a lift in the first half with eight points, missed both shots he took in the second half – both 3-pointers – to add to Maryland's malaise.
Trimble had five first-half assists to overshadow the fact that he missed his last five shots of the period. Coming in having made 21 of 34 shots in his previous two games, Trimble was just 4-of-13 on Wednesday, including 1-of-6 on 3-pointers.
"I feel like we need to space the floor a little bit more," Brantley said. "We need to give Melo more ball screens toward the end of the game, have everybody spread out and give everybody a lot of confidence. We just need to calm down and play like we've been playing all year. We've been playing great, and we just can't panic right now."
The Terps will try to escape their rut Saturday at home against Iowa (15-13, 7-8). The Terps won the first meeting last month, 84-76.
Asked why his team didn't react the way he wanted after the loss to Wisconsin on Sunday, Turgeon said: "Everything is different. You're dealing with a team of 18-to-22-year olds. We'll figure it out. I love my team, but we didn't play well. Minnesota was great tonight. It happens. We have to come back. It's a big day Saturday. We have the national championship team back and the Final Four teams, so it's a big day. There will be a lot of pride in the building."
But it will still be February, and instead of a historic start, there will be concern about the Terps fading for the second straight year in the regular season. And instead of talk of a Big Ten championship, there will be concern that what seemed like a certain top-four finish and a first-round bye in next month's tournament is far from guaranteed.