Maryland men’s basketball came up short in front of its most raucous crowd of the season Feb. 29, falling 78-66 to No. 24 Michigan State.
The No. 9-ranked Terps never led, and every push they made was met with a response. Michigan State started the game on a 9-0 run and led 17-5 at the first media timeout, and after Maryland tied the game at 23 apiece halfway through the opening period, the Spartans countered with another 9-0 spurt. They led by 11 at halftime and by 18 early in the second half, enough of a margin to keep the home team at bay.
Cassius Winston led a balanced Michigan State offense with 20 points and six assists, and fellow senior Xavier Tillman recorded a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double. The Spartans’ weakness has been finding other scoring options, but they had them Feb. 29. Malik Hall scored 16 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field, just his second time reaching double figures this season. And Rocket Watts excelled on both ends, pairing lockdown defense with 13 points and three dimes.
The Terps got a 20-point, 12-rebound effort from Jalen Smith, but not much else. Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 13 points but shot just 6-of-15 from the floor, and no one else on the team had more than 10. As a unit, Maryland shot 42.6 percent from the floor and 30 percent from deep. This team has won games playing much worse, but Michigan State simply wouldn’t allow that to happen.
Here’s what stood out from the Terps’ second loss in three outings.
1. Michigan State shot its way to an insurmountable lead.
Maryland’s defense was a step slow for most of the evening, and the Spartans took advantage with impressive ball movement and consistent shooting. Michigan State knocked down 47.5 percent of its field goals and 42.9 percent of its 3-pointers.
It started right away, with the Spartans scoring 17 points on their first seven possessions (7-of-8 shooting, 3-of-3 triples). And after starting the second half with an 11-point lead, Michigan State made 8 of 9 field goals to start the period, which ballooned the margin to 18. Maryland never got closer than nine.
“I thought [Winston] pushed the ball, we wanted to run our break, we thought we could run them,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said of the fast start. “And then in the second half, we got a lot of offensive rebounds for kickouts. Those are the two things.”
2. The Spartans made their second chances count.
The offensive rebounding margin was only 10-9 in favor of the Spartans, but they converted their extra opportunities into 19 second-chance points while holding the Terps to just 10. Tillman grabbed four offensive boards himself and consistently found open shooters after coming down with them — including Watts on a backbreaking triple with 6:55 remaining, stopping a Maryland run and putting Michigan State back up double digits.
The Spartans also did a better job of turning their defensive rebounds and steals into easy opportunities, leading 13-10 in fast break points. Combine these categories and Michigan State is a plus-12, which matches the final score of the game.
“It’s real simple,” Terps head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We’ve got to run back, and we ran back in their building, tonight we didn’t run back. We boxed out in their building, we didn’t box out and rebound in our building.”
3. Maryland’s role players provided a boost.
Donta Scott was the Terps’ third-leading scorer behind Cowan and Smith, notching 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting. Ricky Lindo logged eight minutes in the frontcourt and knocked down a game-tying three in the middle of the first half. And Hakim Hart — who’s replaced a slumping Serrel Smith Jr. in the rotation these last three games — played a season-high 10 minutes and chipped in five points.
“Them seeing the ball go in the basket is basically giving them confidence, knowing that they can go out there and contribute, not just [defensively] but [offensively] too,” Scott said.
But these contributions couldn’t push the Terps over the top, in large part because …
4. The regular supporting cast struggled.
Aaron Wiggins, fresh off outputs of 20 and 16 points in his previous two games, shot 1-for-7 from the floor and 0-for-4 from distance to finish with just four points. The exclamation point to his struggles came in the final minutes in the form of an 0-for-3 trip at the foul line. And Eric Ayala didn’t hit a single shot, missing all four of his field-goal attempts (three from long range). His only points came at the line, and he was a minus-27 in 21 minutes of action.
Darryl Morsell, the hero from the thrilling comeback victory against Minnesota Feb. 26, was a more reliable offensive presence, tallying eight points on 4-of-8 shooting. But he battled foul trouble throughout the evening, limiting his impact on the game. Maryland usually needs at least one of these players to be in strong form to have a chance, and that didn’t happen on this night.
5. Other than this basketball game, it was a positive day for Maryland.
ESPN’s College GameDay visited Xfinity Center for the first time in 15 years, and students completely filled the wall behind the west basket and went bonkers at every opportunity. They were back in full force for the game, packing the arena well before tipoff and breaking out in a flash mob during the first half. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said it was one of the best environments he had ever coached in.
The Terps also got some help by virtue of other teams losing throughout the day. No. 6 Florida State and No. 7 Duke — two other candidates for No. 1 or 2 seeds — both dropped road games. No. 2 Baylor also lost, which weakens their stronghold on a top seed. Maryland would have gained serious ground on all of those teams with a win, and it would’ve clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship.
Instead, Maryland’s lead in the conference standings is down from two games to one. They still need just one more victory to clinch a share, and they’ll get two chances — at Rutgers March 3 and at home against Michigan March 8. But those games won’t be easy, and Maryland enters the final week of the regular season with several issues unresolved.
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