With 13.6 seconds left on the clock, Maryland men’s basketball was on the cusp of securing a road victory Jan. 14 against Wisconsin. The No. 17 Terps led, 54-53, and had just forced a shot clock violation. It wasn’t over, but they were in control.
Until they weren’t.
The avalanche started on the inbounds pass, where Darryl Morsell couldn’t find an open man. He forced a pass to Anthony Cowan Jr., but it was deflected by Wisconsin’s Brad Davison. The play was so close to Morsell that Davidson was able to knock it off him, giving the Badgers possession.
Seconds later, Davison delivered another dagger, coming off a screen to catch the inbounds pass wide open in the corner. He launched a 3-pointer for the lead and swished it. Maryland called timeout, but two hastily-attempted triples went wayward. After leading for most of the second half, the Terps were going home on the wrong end of a 56-54 slugfest.
Winning on the road is hard, especially in this conference. In Big Ten matchups between unranked home teams and ranked road teams, the hosts are now 9-1. Maryland has been on the losing end three times, and is now 0-4 on the road this season.
This was a close contest throughout — Wisconsin never led by more than eight, while Maryland’s largest lead was five. The Badgers pulled ahead early and held a 30-25 advantage at halftime, but the Terps started the second half on a 10-2 run. They maintained a delicate grasp on that lead down the stretch, only to watch it slip away in the final seconds.
Maryland almost won with only three reliable scoring options. Jalen Smith led all scorers with 18 points, Cowan had 15 and Aaron Wiggins notched 13. But the rest of the team combined for just seven points and shot 2-for-14 from the floor and 0-for-8 on three-pointers. After starters Donta Scott and Eric Ayala scored Maryland’s first four points of the second half, the aformentioned trio contributed the team’s final 25.
In those top three, there are plenty of positives. Wiggins, who went scoreless in Maryland’s dud of a loss at Iowa Jan. 10, came off the bench for the first time this season and responded with his best game in weeks. Smith continued to showcase his range, knocking down 2 of 3 attempts from long range. And Cowan was aggressive, attacking the basket whenever he could.
But the negatives will outweigh all of that. Maryland started slow again, shooting 9-of-25 as a team in the first half and trailing for most of the period. The Terps committed 14 turnovers and forced only seven. Two-thirds of the rotation wasn’t reliable. Even after taking the lead, Maryland couldn’t put the Badgers away. And when it mattered most, everything fell apart.
There’s a long way to go in the Big Ten season, and Maryland is still somewhat well-positioned in a chaotic conference. The Terps are KenPom favorites in their next five contests, starting Jan. 18 at home against Purdue. But with two of those five games on the road and four against teams receiving AP votes this week, nothing will come easy.
– Even before the inbounds disaster, Morsell had one of his most frustrating performances in a Terps uniform. He shot 1-of-5 for two points. Foul trouble limited him to 17 minutes of action, but he still committed four turnovers. When he was on the court, Maryland was minus-14; none of his teammates were worse than minus-2. Morsell’s last three outings were at least relatively solid, and his team will need him to bounce back quickly.
– Wisconsin leaned heavily on its big men, as Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter combined for 31 points without ever sharing the floor. Reuvers had 17 in 27 minutes, while Potter tallied 14 despite mysteriously only playing 13 minutes. The duo shot 4-of-8 on threes, which minimized the impact of Chol Marial, Maryland’s 7-foot-2 reserve center. But in perhaps another related story, the Terps controlled the glass, securing 35 rebounds to Wisconsin’s 24.
– This was by far the slowest game Maryland’s played this season. The Terps had just 54 possessions; their previous low was 63, and the national average is a shade under 70. Wisconsin controlled the tempo and both teams played almost exclusively in the halfcourt — the Badgers had four fast-break points and Maryland had none. Expect another grinder of a game against Purdue, which ranks 343rd of 353 Division I teams in adjusted tempo.
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