College basketball season can be a dysfunctional roller coaster. Teams go through their ups and downs, and fortunes can turn sharply at any time. It’s been especially chaotic in 2020-21, with games disappearing and teams going on pause throughout the last three months. For Maryland men’s basketball, excitement and frustration have alternated seemingly all season. The 27-game odyssey closed Sunday, March 7, with a stunning low point.
The Terps were riding high after five consecutive wins brought them to 15-10 overall and 9-9 in Big Ten play and vaulted them into the projected NCAA Tournament bracket. But they raced off the Xfinity Center floor in visible frustration March 7, as a late-game collapse resulted in a disheartening 66-61 loss to Penn State on senior day. The momentum was gone, and the Terps’ fate was suddenly in doubt.
This game was always Maryland’s hands. The Terps raced out to a 12-0 advantage in the first four minutes. They led 29-13 with 5:33 left in the first half, then 50-36 with 11:24 to play in the game, and even 57-51 with 2:51 remaining. But Penn State surged ahead with a stunning 12-0 run, then stifled Maryland in the final, backbreaking moments.
“You have losses in life that are devastating,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said, “and this is one of them. Lot of tears in the locker room. We played well early, didn’t play well late and couldn’t stop it.”
Seth Lundy did most of the Nittany Lions’ damage. The sophomore forward poured in a career-high 31 points on 11-of-18 shooting, including a 5-of-8 clip from 3-point range. Junior Myreon Jones tallied 17 points for a Penn State team that shot a meager 19-of-56 (33.9 percent) from the floor collectively, but used a rebounding advantage and success at the free-throw line to outlast the Terps for the second time this season.
Aaron Wiggins led Maryland with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Eric Ayala notched 14 and Darryl Morsell scored 10, all in the first half. The trio got some help from forwards Donta Scott and Jairus Hamilton (nine and seven points, respectively) and Maryland posted a respectable shooting clips of 23-of-48 from the field and 8-of-21 from deep. But there were enough shortcomings — going just 7-of-13 at the line, only one offensive rebound, 13 turnovers leading to 13 Penn State points — to make it a losing effort.
It was a game of runs all the way. Maryland made the first move, jumping out to an early 12-0 lead. Then Penn State went on a 9-2 run out of the first media timeout. Maryland outscored the Nittany Lions 15-3 during the next eight minutes, only to immediately be on the wrong end of a 10-0 run. The Terps led 33-23 at halftime.
After Penn State trimmed the margin to three early in the second half, Maryland went on an 11-0 run to pull ahead 50-36. But then came a 5:13 scoring drought, during which the Nittany Lions scored 11 unanswered points of their own. Still, after a pair of Ayala free throws with 2:51 to play, the Terps led 57-51 and appeared in control.
Then the wheels fell off.
Lundy’s 3-pointer made it a one-possession game with 2:40 left, then John Harrar sank a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game, then Lundy slithered to the basket and hit a floater to give Penn State its first lead of the game, 58-57, at the 1:23 mark. After Ayala missed a mid-range jumper, Lundy pulled up from the right wing and knocked down another triple, this one a dagger that made it 61-57. Free throws back and forth, while ultimately inconsequential, brought the game to its final tally.
Instead of 10-10 in the league, it’s 9-11. Instead of a tie for sixth, it’s a tie for eighth. And instead of making an NCAA Tournament being a virtual lock, the Terps have made the next week a lot more stressful than it was expected to be.
There was some good on this night. But there was also some bad and ugly, especially down the stretch. Here’s how it all sorts out.
The Good: Senior Celebrations
Senior day, more so than any other part of this sport, simply doesn’t resonate the same during a pandemic. Maryland allowed players’ families and friends to attend the game in person for the first time all season, so there was at least a well-deserved smattering of applause as the seniors — Darryl Morsell, Reese Mona and Galin Smith — were honored pregame, but it was a far cry from the standing ovations of yesteryear.
For a while, it looked like the celebration would play out perfectly on the court. Turgeon placed all three veterans in the starting lineup, which led 9-0 before Scott came in for Smith and 12-0 before Hakim Hart replaced Mona. At halftime, Morsell had a team-high 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while Smith had four points on a pair of post-up buckets and Mona was already up to nine minutes logged.
After the break … well, things didn’t go so well. If anything, the good news is that this senior trio is guaranteed at least one more game with the Terps, and all of them have the option to return in 2021-22 (Morsell is considering it, while Smith seems unlikely to return and Mona already has a job lined up).
“Senior night, you’re supposed to send the seniors out on a good note,” Wiggins said. “Everybody loves our three seniors, the managers, all those guys, so we wanted to end it on a good night. … It hurts.”
The Bad: Rebounding Woes
Maryland, by Big Ten basketball standards, is small. The Terps’ tallest rotation player is 6-foot-9, and their most common lineup requires the 6-foot-7 Donta Scott to masquerade as a center. This creates an obvious disadvantage in areas like rebounding and rim protection, but on many nights, effort can close this gap. In their last seven games, the Terps were 3-2-2 in the rebounding category and had a positive aggregate margin.
Penn State isn’t dramatically larger than Maryland, although John Harrar is a more physical big than anyone the Terps match up with him. But the Nittany Lions were simply in the right spot on seemingly every missed shot on this night. They pulled down 10 offensive rebounds, which led to 12 second-chance points. They held Maryland to one offensive board (which became two points). That’s a 10-point margin in a five-point game.
The Ugly: A Late Collapse
Things looked ideal for the Terps after Scott’s triple made it 50-36 with 11:24 to play. But Maryland’s offense sputtered immediately afterward, and it never truly recovered.
Here’s how Maryland’s next seven possessions went — Morsell turnover, Scott miss, Hart miss, Wiggins missed 3, Wiggins miss, Hamilton turnover, Wiggins missed one-and-one free throw.
Hamilton snapped the scoring drought with a 3-pointer from the corner, but Maryland followed with a Morsell missed three and Scott turnover. Ayala made a layup and two free throws in the next three possessions, but missed the front end of his own one-and-one chance in between. And all that is how we got to 57-51 with 2:51 left.
From there, Maryland missed four straight shots — Morsell for three, Wiggins for 3, Ayala from mid-range and Scott for three — and added one more miss after another pair of Ayala free throws for good measure. Ayala snapped the drought with one lonely second remaining, but the damage was done.
Add it all up (and scrap that last bucket) and you’re looking at the Terps missing 10 of 12 shots, committing three turnovers along the way, and clanking the front ends of two separate one-and-ones at the foul line while making just four of seven free throws total. You’re looking at nine points in 19 possessions. You’re looking at a slow, steady, fatal meltdown.
Maryland, even after this mess of a week, is 29th in KenPom and sitting on the proper side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. But this all could have been so much easier. The Terps blew that chance.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox