After giving up three early 3-point shots, the defense tightened. The Terps scored 13 straight points in a 17-1 run to turn an early seven-point deficit into a seven-point lead.
Then the Wildcats got hot and, as has happened so often on the road in the Big Ten, Maryland did not. The seven-point deficit was back by halftime.
But something strange — and different — happened for coach Mark Turgeon’s team in the second half of its final Big Ten road game.
After falling behind by as many as 11 points early in the second half, the Terps roared back with a 16-2 run and beat the Wildcats, 71-64.
It marked the first win after seven straight road defeats for Maryland (19-11, 8-9), its last win away from College Park coming in overtime in the Big Ten road opener at Illinois on Dec. 3.
It also marked the first time the Terps have won two straight games since beating UMBC on Dec. 29 and Penn State on Jan. 2, though they had not played two straight games at home since.
“We’ve had a hard road schedule,” Turgeon said. “The thing I’m proud of is we never stopped fighting. We were in every road game since Ohio State [a 91-69 loss on Jan. 11].”
Turgeon used his team's road failures as motivation after Maryland had erased its deficit and had seemingly taken control of the game.
“We just kept talking about in those timeouts going down, ‘All right, we’ve been here before, what are we going to do?" Turgeon said. “‘We’re going to change things tonight, or what?’
“They were pretty determined to change things. It’s great. After the last game [a win over Rutgers], I said, ‘The only chance you have to get to 9-9 is to win at Northwestern.’ ”
Maryland used its soft, three-quarter-court press to force the Wildcats out of an offense that had scored 37 points in the first half, mainly by hitting eight of 15 3-point shots.
The Terps spread their offense and used their speed to attack Northwestern’s matchup-zone defense, hitting 14 of their 25 shots in the second half, including 4-for-9 on 3-pointers.
"We went to the soft press, which I think got us energized,” said sophomore guard Kevin Huerter, who led the Terps with 18 points.
“It brought down the shot clock. We didn’t have to play defense as long. … We started to finally move on offense. First half we were too stagnant.”
Along with Huerter, sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr. finished with 13 points, as did redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley. Senior guard Scottie Lindsey led the Wildcats with 15.
Playing its second straight game without senior point guard Bryant McIntosh, who sat out with a shoulder injury, Northwestern (15-14, 6-10) faded down the stretch.
It was the fourth straight game in a losing streak that began when Maryland beat the Wildcats by 16 in College Park, and the third straight in which they surrendered big leads, including a 27-point advantage at home Saturday to No. 2 Michigan State.
“I thought we had some mental fatigue in the second half,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “You talk a lot about physical fatigue, but I thought with some of our decision-making it was some mental fatigue tonight and we just have to learn to become tougher and hopefully we’ll get it together.”
That is something Maryland, which has had its own share of injuries this season with the loss of power forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender, finally overcame in the second half Monday.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity this year and for the most part we thought we’ve handled it pretty well,” Huerter said. “It’s just at the end of games when we’re on the road, sometimes stuff kind of falls apart on us. Today we went into the last couple of minutes with a lead and made our free throws and played better defense.”
The Terps have off until Saturday, when they meet No. 17 Michigan at Xfinity Center before going to New York next week for the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden.
“We’re playing a really good Michigan team Saturday, but I think 9-9 gives you a chance still to think about positive thoughts,” Turgeon said.
Big half for Wiley
Wiley scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, hitting four of the six shots he took as well as a couple of free throws to help keep the Wildcats from making a late comeback.
Wiley scored back-to-back baskets, the first off a steal by Cowan for a layup and then on his own steal and layup that helped push the Terps into a 55-54 lead with 8:58 to go.
“They were huge,” Wiley said. “They had their run and we were going through a little slump at the time and those two buckets really got us going.”
Though Wiley has been known mostly for being an offensive spark off the bench, he has been forced to pay more attention on the defensive end as he moved into the starting lineup five games ago and saw his minutes increase.
Asked the difference in the way he played Monday, Wiley said: “I think just energy, playing harder than I normally play. Just being more aggressive on offense, and I think that really got me going defensively.”
Cowan said Wiley’s contribution was “huge” and a byproduct of what has gone on recently in practice.
“It wasn’t a shock to see him play like that in a game,” Cowan said. “Coach always telling him that we need more out of him, because everybody obviously knows how good he is. When when he comes like that, our defense is even better.”
McIntosh out for Northwestern
Senior guard Bryant McIntosh missed his second straight game with a shoulder injury, a continuation of an injury-filled season for a player who was a unanimous preseason All-Big Ten selection.
McIntosh sat out Saturday’s home game against Michigan State, during which his Wildcats blew a 27-point lead in the first half en route to a 65-60 loss to the No. 2 Spartans. It was the third straight setback for Northwestern.
The losing streak began with a 73-57 defeat at Maryland on Feb. 10, a game in which McIntosh went scoreless for the first time in his college career. McIntosh had missed just one game but had struggled with his shooting because of recurring knee problems.
After playing 28 minutes and missing all five shots he took against the Terps, McIntosh played just 14 minutes, scoring two points on 1-for-5 shooting in an overtime road loss to the Scarlet Knights.
MARYLAND (19-11): Fernando 3-3 3-6 9, Wiley 4-7 4-4 13, Huerter 7-12 1-2 18, Morsell 2-8 2-2 6, Cowan 3-7 6-6 13, Tomaic 0-0 0-0 0, Cekovsky 4-6 0-0 8, Nickens 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 24-47 18-22 71.
NORTHWESTERN (15-14): Law 3-8 0-1 9, Falzon 1-4 0-0 3, Pardon 5-6 4-7 14, Gaines 2-5 1-2 6, Lindsey 6-12 0-0 15, Skelly 1-9 3-4 6, Benson 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 3-6 4-4 11. Totals 21-50 12-18 64.
Halftime—Northwestern 37-30. 3-point goals—Maryland 5-17 (Huerter 3-6, Wiley 1-4, Cowan 1-5, Nickens 0-2), Northwestern 10-25 (Lindsey 3-5, Law 3-6, Gaines 1-3, Skelly 1-3, Brown 1-4, Falzon 1-4). Fouled out—None. Rebounds—Maryland 27 (Fernando, Morsell 6), Northwestern 24 (Pardon 6). Assists—Maryland 14 (Morsell 6), Northwestern 14 (Gaines 5). Total fouls—Maryland 17, Northwestern 20. A—6,014 (17,500).