Going back on the road Monday night in Indiana, coach Mark Turgeon knew there was little room for error with his Maryland basketball team in its pursuit of a fourth straight NCAA tournament berth.
In truth, the Terps had more games left in which they could stumble, including the one at the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, than opportunities to build their rather measly tournament resume.
After a 71-68 defeat to the Hoosiers, Maryland is running out of time — and games — to make a legitimate run. Unfortunately for Turgeon and his team, they are also running out of players.
Not only did the Terps (15-7, 4-5) lose their fourth straight Big Ten road game and fifth in six games this year after going 7-2 last season, but Maryland also lost freshman center Bruno Fernando with an ankle injury.
It was also the third straight time the Terps have lost at Indiana since joining the Big Ten four years ago. Unlike the previous two games, which were blowouts, this one came down to the end.
Sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who led the Terps with 18 points, missed a potential tying 3-pointer with eight seconds to go. After Indiana forward Josh McRoberts missed a pair of free throws, with three seconds left, sophomore guard Kevin Huerter took a half-court heave after the buzzer that fell short.
“We played hard, we competed our tails off in a tough environment, we had a stretch there we couldn‘t score, but we never stopped trying,” Turgeon said. “Just got to play a little bit better. We didn’t play our smartest game. You’ve got to give them credit — they were great defensively.
“I told the guys, we battled. We had Bruno go down, we kept battling. Ceko [Michal Cekovsky] was in foul trouble. We’re limited, but we battled. … We didn’t execute well enough to get shots that we wanted, and their defense was great,” he said. "And it’s tough on the road. We didn’t execute well enough to be successful.”
A week after suffering a crushing one-point loss at Michigan, the Terps had a chance to win after taking a five-point lead late in the game. But Maryland didn’t hold on because it couldn’t stop Juwan Morgan.
Some of it had to do with Fernando going out with a sprained ankle early in the second half and Cekovsky picking up his third and fourth fouls in quick succession, forcing the Terps to use redshirt freshman forward Joshua Tomaic as the big man defensively down the stretch.
Morgan, a junior forward whose status for the game was up in the air after he suffered a sprained ankle Friday night at Michigan State, finished with 25 points, including 10 straight in one stretch for Indiana (12-8, 5-3).
“Bruno was playing pretty well. He made Morgan guard a little bit, put a little pressure on him there, try to wear him down a little bit. He was the only one that could make him guard,” Turgeon said. “That’s big. He puts foul pressure on him.”
Said sophomore Maryland guard Kevin Huerter: “Morgan was a tough matchup all night. Just tough for our bigs. He can do a lot of different things on the court. He’s strong and he’s athletic. Offensively we couldn’t get it going down the stretch. We didn’t make enough plays.”
Cowan struggles at the end
Cowan, who has often carried the Terps through some offensive struggles this season, tried to do it again Monday. Perhaps a bit too much. Frustrated on several plays on which he thought he was fouled, Cowan finished 6-for-18 from the field, including 1-for-6 on 3-pointers. He also committed six of Maryland’s 18 turnovers.
Turgeon acknowledged that Cowan forced things at times by trying to dominate the ball.
“We’re not great when Anthony has to do that,” Turgeon said. “We’ll watch the film. He’s young, sophomore, never can take him out. He can have a thousand turnovers and and he’s going to stay in, and that’s part of the problem. But he’s been terrific all year. He was visibly frustrated, and, therefore, he wasn’t playing like Anthony’s played for us all year. But he battled.”
Asked whether not getting calls got into his head, Turgeon said: “You’ve got to ask him. It’s tough. It’s tough. It’s tough. But we’ve got to be tough.”
Exactly how it affected Cowan isn’t certain. A media request to talk to Cowan was denied by a member of the athletic media relations department.
Huerter, who finished with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting, including 2-for-4 on 3-pointers, was visibly frustrated by the loss and the way the Terps handled things offensively at the end. He didn’t take a shot for nearly the final 10 minutes of the game until the half-court heave.
“I don’t think we moved the ball well enough down the stretch, getting different guys shots,” Huerter said. “We forced a lot when we didn’t need to. We tried to draw fouls when we didn’t need to. We could’ve gotten better shots. Those are the types of plays we couldn’t make because they seemed to be getting better shots at the other end.”
On the late 3-point attempt Cowan missed, Huerter said the Terps were set to run a play in which Huerter was trying to get freed with a back screen for a 3-pointer. Instead, Cowan settled for a 25-footer.
“He just broke it off and took a 3,” Huerter said. “He had a shot I guess.”
Nickens and Wiley contribute
Both senior wing Jared Nickens and redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley were pulled during Thursday night’s 91-73 win over Iowa. Nickens got yanked late in the first half after taking a questionable 3-pointer and not getting back on defense, and didn’t play in the second half. Wiley got benched late in the game for also taking a questionable 3-pointer.
The two most veteran perimeter players worked their way back into Turgeon’s good graces Monday.
Wiley, who had missed two recent games with a concussion and then shot 0-for-4 against Iowa, missed his first shot, a 3-point try, but then hit a pair of 3-pointers and also made two free throws in the first half.
Nickens, who came in having missed 17 of his previous 19 3-pointers, made four of seven against the Hoosiers, including one to tie the game at 57 with a little over six minutes left and another to pull Maryland to within 67-66 with 1:06 to play. He finished with 12 points, the most he’s scored in a Big Ten game this season.
Tomaic gets first start
Redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic, whose playing time has increased dramatically in recently weeks, got his first start for the Terps. Part of it was his solid play of late and part of it was likely to keep Fernando from getting into early foul trouble.
Tomaic, a 6-foot-9 forward from the Canary Islands, got off to a good start defensively with a block on Morgan on Indiana’s first possession, but when the Hoosiers went to a smaller lineup without Morgan, Tomaic took a seat after the first four minutes. He wound up playing just 10 minutes and got time in the second half only after the injury to Fernando and Cekovsky’s foul trouble.
He didn’t do much after the initial block on Morgan, going scoreless and finishing with just one rebound.
MARYLAND (15-7): Tomaic 0-1 0-0 0, Cekovsky 0-4 0-0 0, Cowan 6-18 5-8 18, Huerter 6-9 2-2 16, Morsell 2-8 4-5 8, Fernando 3-3 0-0 6, Wiley 2-5 2-2 8, Nickens 4-8 0-0 12. Totals 23-56 13-17 68.
INDIANA (12-8): Smith 6-8 0-0 12, Morgan 10-18 5-7 25, Johnson 5-12 0-0 12, Newkirk 1-1 2-4 5, McRoberts 2-4 2-4 7, Hartman 1-3 0-0 3, McSwain 0-1 0-0 0, Durham 0-1 0-0 0, Green 3-8 0-1 7. Totals 28-56 9-16 71.
Halftime—Indiana 42-39. 3-point goals—Maryland 9-23 (Nickens 4-7, Huerter 2-4, Wiley 2-4, Cowan 1-6, Tomaic 0-1, Morsell 0-1), Indiana 6-18 (Johnson 2-6, Newkirk 1-1, McRoberts 1-2, Green 1-2, Hartman 1-3, Smith 0-1, Durham 0-1, Morgan 0-2). Fouled out—None. Rebounds—Maryland 33 (Huerter 11), Indiana 27 (Johnson 8). Assists—Maryland 14 (Huerter 5), Indiana 12 (Morgan 4). Total fouls—Maryland 18, Indiana 18. A—17,222 (17,472).