STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It took 11 games and 35 days for No. 4 Maryland men’s basketball to lose. The Terps had been dodging that gut-wrenching moment for weeks, reaching 10-0 and ascending to the top of the rankings. When that moment finally came Dec. 10 at Penn State, though, it came in full force, with a lackluster 40 minutes spurring a court storming at the buzzer. The Terps lost, 76-69.
The Terps entered this game as one of eight remaining unbeatens in Division I, needing a win to equal the best start in program history. But Maryland was never in control on this night. Penn State jumped ahead, 20-10, and led almost the entire night. Every time the Terps made a run in the second half — they got within two, or three, or four, but never closer — the Nittany Lions responded.
Maryland turned the ball over 20 times. It shot 33.3 percent from the floor, making just three of its final 18 attempts. It gave up 36 points in the paint. Simply put, that’s a losing formula against a Penn State team that’s now 8-2 (1-1 Big Ten) and 23rd in KenPom. Without a 48-33 rebounding advantage or a 23-of-28 mark from the foul line, Maryland would’ve gotten blown out.
“We have a long ways to go as a team,” head coach Mark Turgeon said after the game, “and sometimes when you win, you don’t realize it. Coaches do, but hopefully tonight with this loss, our guys will realize that we have a long ways to go to get where we need to be.”
Penn State had five players in double figures and two with double-doubles. Center Mike Watkins had 15 points and 11 boards, while forward Lamar Stevens had 15 and 10. Guards Myreon Jones and Izaiah Brockington chipped in 14 points each, while Myles Dread added 12.
Maryland got 16 points from Anthony Cowan Jr., 15 from Eric Ayala and 13 from Aaron Wiggins, but the trio combined to shoot 12-of-39. Jalen Smith, who battled foul trouble all night and only played 28 minutes, tallied 12 points and 11 boards on 3-of-5 shooting. The Terps made 8 of 23 triples but just 5 of 16 layups.
Here’s what stood out from the Terps’ first loss of the year:
Turnovers headlined a slow start, and poor shooting prevented a comeback.
Maryland entered this game averaging just 11.7 turnovers per game. The Terps eclipsed that number in a little more than 12 minutes. At one point, they turned the ball over on six straight possessions. Maryland finished the first half with just four assists and 13 turnovers, which led to 17 Penn State points. On the other end of the floor, the Nittany Lions had 13 assists and just three giveaways.
“We were just dribbling a lot — overdribbling,” Ayala said. “Credit their defense, they played well on the defensive end, they had us well-scouted. It was just one of those nights.”
This was an even game for the first five minutes or so, but an 11-0 Penn State run made it 20-10. After the lead reached 27-15, Maryland went on a 7-0 run to trim the deficit to five, but Penn State countered with six unanswered points. The Terps made one more push and trailed, 37-30, with less than a second left, only to let Myreon Jones loose for a corner three at the buzzer.
“That was a killer,” Turgeon said.
In the second half, Maryland came within five points five different times, four points three different times, three points twice and two points once. But it never made enough shots to pull ahead. From the 10:57 mark until 41 seconds remained, the Terps made just one of 14 field goal attempts, including 10 straight misses. Some shots were contested. Some were open. Some were forced. But they all shared the same result, and they collectively held Maryland back.
Mark Turgeon changed his lineup, and it didn’t work.
After three straight games in which Maryland started its five best players — Cowan, Ayala, Wiggins, Darryl Morsell and Smith — Turgeon went with a bigger look throughout this contest. To counter Penn State’s frontcourt duo of Stevens and Watkins, he reinserted freshman center Makhi Mitchell into the lineup, sending Morsell to the bench.
Mitchell, who last started Nov. 22 against George Mason, returned to the lineup and played 11 first-half minutes. He went 0-for-4 with two turnovers in that time. Mitchell did grab five rebounds, but three of those came on one possession where also missed two tip-ins. Donta Scott also played 11 first-half minutes, knocking down a corner three but taking just one other shot. The duo finished with three points and four turnovers on 1-of-6 shooting.
“Our young guys looked young tonight,” Turgeon said. “Plain and simple.”
Sophomore Ricky Lindo was a more pleasant surprise, checking in late in the first half but finishing with 13 minutes. He didn’t make much of an impact on the stat sheet – two points from the foul line and one rebound – but was solid on defense.
Still, the avoidance of the regular starting five was stunning. Per KenPom, Maryland plays the Cowan-Ayala-Wiggins-Morsell-Smith lineup 29.2 percent of the time, twice as much as any other combination. In this loss, that group was together for 57 seconds, from the 4:13 to 3:16 mark of the second half. And the combinations used in its place simply didn’t have enough.
A daunting stretch caught up to the Terps.
Maryland started the year with five home games against mid-majors, then played three games in four days at the Orlando Invitational. With wins against Notre Dame and Illinois in between that tournament and this contest, the Terps had played six games in 13 days. There’s also probably something to be said for having to climb out of holes consistently — this was the Terps’ fourth halftime deficit in that six-game sequence.
“That was a tough stretch for us,” Turgeon said. “We haven’t really had a lot of practice time, and I’m not making excuses — the better team won — but we have like five plays that we can run.”
Now Maryland has nine days before taking the floor again, against Seton Hall in Newark, N.J. Turgeon said he hopes the time off will allow his team to refocus and improve on offense. And the players know they don’t want to see anyone else rush the court after beating them.
“That was my first time,” Ayala said of the storming. “It’s not something I want to feel again.”
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox