Maryland coach Mark Turgeon had seen it before, too many times in what has been a long and frustrating men’s basketball season for the Terps. It happened early in the season in close nonconference losses to St. Bonaventure and at Syracuse, then throughout the Big Ten.
Small halftime deficits growing into larger ones right at the start of the second half. Comebacks that fell short with shots that rim out or players whose minds go blank in key moments with the game on the line.
It happened again Thursday against Wisconsin in the second round of the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden in what turned out to be a 59-54 loss to the ninth-seeded Badgers.
“I just felt like we were always behind the whole time,” said Turgeon, whose eighth-seeded team’s last lead came at 24-23 late in the first half. ”It felt like we were fighting uphill all day.”
A missed free throw by sophomore guard Kevin Huerter with 9.2 seconds that would have helped tie the score and a turnover by redshirt junior Dion Wiley on an inbounds pass helped seal Maryland’s fate with 5.6 seconds left.
The steal by Wisconsin forward Khalil Iverson, and two subsequent free throws, came after a pair of free throws by Wisconsin freshman point guard Brad Davison had given the Badgers a three-point lead with 8.5 seconds to play.
The inbounds play broke down when Maryland point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. ran the wrong way and failed to set a back screen for Huerter, who lost the ball to Iverson.
“I messed the play up,” Cowan, who finished with 16 points, said in the team's quiet dressing room. “I was supposed to back-screen, I didn't really get the play and I just messed it up.”
Asked what he was trying to get off the inbounds pass, Turgeon said: “Not what happened. That’s not what we wanted. We ran the play — had a guy run the play wrong. It’s disappointing.”
The result was a second straight opening game defeat in the Big Ten tournament for the Terps, who now return to College Park with more than a week to wait out a possible bid to the National Invitation Tournament.
After Maryland fell behind by as many as seven points when Wisconsin (15-17) scored the first five points of the second half, Huerter led the Terps back by scoring 14 of his game-high 20 points after halftime.
Senior center Ethan Happ led the Badgers, who had four players in double figures, with 14 points, seven rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals.
Wisconsin will play top-seeded Michigan State in the quarterfinals Friday.
Asked whether the loss felt similar to so many other close defeats the Terps had suffered — this was the fifth setback in seven Big Ten games decided by five points or fewer — Huerter initially said it “felt different.”
Yet as he started to play out what happened, his opinion seemed to change.
“We were making plays,” he said. “We were kind of going back and forth. We never got over the hump, never made the shot to go up. But the similar thing happened that’s been happening all year.”
The Terps could never get the lead, or take control of the game. Maryland (19-13) tied the game with 4:18 left, and the Terps had a chance to take the lead when Happ threw the ball away.
Huerter missed a 3-pointer, but then got the game even again by scoring on three straight possessions.
Finally, after Wisconsin sophomore forward Brendan Pritzl hit a foul-line jumper for a 55-53 lead with 28 seconds to go, Huerter’s short turnaround went in and out as he was fouled.
A nearly 76 percent free-throw shooter who seemed to get better when the game was on the line, Huerter missed the first of two free throws. Huerter said an usually long wait to shoot the free throw contributed to the miss.
“I didn’t know why we weren’t shooting yet," Huerter said. I don’t know what was happening under the basket. But I’m not going to say too much.
“I just didn’t know why I wasn’t shooting, and I was getting frustrated, just that I was getting taken out of rhythm. But that’s not an excuse for missing.”
Huerter defends Turgeon
As much as Turgeon has said he doesn’t pay attention to the criticism he receives from fans and the media for his team’s disappointing season — the first in four years that won’t end with an NCAA tournament bid — his players apparently do.
At least Huerter does.
Without any prompting, Huerter said after the game, “Coach Turgeon is probably going to take a lot of heat for it. Everybody is going to point to him. Everybody’s going to look at him. I’m sure he took the blame a couple of minutes ago [at the postgame news conference].
“But Coach Turgeon doesn’t miss rebounds. Coach Turgeon doesn’t miss a free throw. Coach Turgeon doesn’t throw the ball away. Coach Turgeon doesn’t execute plays when we’re supposed to execute plays that we practiced multiple times. That’s all on the players.”
Huerter wasn’t done.
“So this loss is on everybody, especially the players, because we didn’t make the plays in the last minute 12 seconds to win the game, ” Huerter said. “So everybody can say what they want about him, but we didn’t make plays for him.”
Badgers on a roll
Since losing, 68-63, at Maryland on Feb. 4 for its seventh straight defeat, Wisconsin has won five of its past seven games. Among the losses was a down-to-the-wire defeat Sunday at home to No. 2 Michigan State.
“I think it’s just buying into the little things that coach [Greg Gard] has been preaching all year,” said Davison, who scored a career-high 30 points against the Spartans and finished with 13 Thursday. “I think especially at the end of this game, the possessions are magnified. When you do things right those final possessions, you can really turn things around.”
In the final minute and the score tied at 53. Pritzl’s missed 3-pointer with 1:03 left was rebounded by Iverson and Davison’s subsequent missed 3-pointer was rebounded by Happ. After Gard called timeout, Pritzl hit the go-ahead basket.
Conversely, Turgeon thought his team’s inability to grab defensive rebounds on big possessions, as well as fouling unnecessarily at times, cost the Terps the game. Maryland was called for 21 fouls to only 14 for the Badgers, leading to Wisconsin shooting 20 of 24 from the free-throw line to only eight of nine for Maryland.
“Really came down to two things," Turgeon said. “We fouled too darn much, and we couldn’t get a rebound when we needed to get a rebound.”
WISCONSIN—Ford 1-8 4-4 7, Happ 4-10 6-7 14, Davison 5-12 3-4 13, Pritzl 3-7 2-2 10, Iverson 3-7 5-5 11, Moesch 0-0 0-0 0, Reuvers 2-6 0-2 4, Van Vliet 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-50 20-24 59.
MARYLAND—Fernando 5-11 2-2 12, Cekovsky 0-0 0-0 0, Huerter 8-15 3-4 20, Morsell 1-5 0-0 2, Cowan 6-11 3-3 16, Tomaic 0-0 0-0 0, Obi 0-1 0-0 0, Wiley 2-5 0-0 4, Nickens 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-50 8-9 54.
Halftime—Wisconsin 28-26. 3-point goals—Wisconsin 3-18 (Pritzl 2-5, Ford 1-7, Reuvers 0-2, Davison 0-4), Maryland 2-14 (Huerter 1-4, Cowan 1-4, Morsell 0-1, Nickens 0-2, Wiley 0-3). Fouled out—None. Rebounds—Wisconsin 27 (Happ 7), Maryland 25 (Fernando 9). Assists—Wisconsin 5 (Davison 2), Maryland 9 (Cowan 4). Total fouls—Wisconsin 14, Maryland 21.