As the final buzzer sounded in the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., the Michigan men’s basketball team left the court to the sounds of ecstatic cheers and with smiles on the players’ faces.
Meanwhile, Maryland exited with solemn expressions and heads hanging low. The Terps lined up for postgame handshakes with the team that handed them their ninth loss of the season and sixth loss in the Big Ten. Michigan (8-7, 2-3 Big Ten) defeated Maryland (9-9, 1-6), 83-64, on Jan. 18.
For a Maryland team that began the season ranked No. 20 in the AP Top 25 poll, nothing appears to be going its way anymore.
“The deal for us is continue to fight, continue to fight, continue to grind and find a way,” interim head coach Danny Manning said regarding the message being sent to the team to overcome the slump. “That will always be the mindset while we’re coaching this ballclub is come out and fight. Come out and fight. Let’s win the fight, gentlemen.”
But it’s an ongoing battle for a Maryland team that continues to suffer the same mistakes game after game — sloppy halves, inconsistency and careless errors. History repeated itself for Maryland as it started its game against Michigan with another slow start, which has plagued the team all season.
Manning switched up the usual starting five of senior guard Eric Ayala, junior guard Hakim Hart, graduate guard Fatts Russell, junior forward Donta Scott and junior center Qudus Wahab. Graduate guard Xavier Green and sophomore guard Ian Martinez started in place of Hart and Russell. The pair did not enter the game until about four minutes after the start.
But even a switch in the lineup did not spark early energy within the Terps.
“We’re at a point now where we’re going to push some buttons, do some things that are a little bit different and see what happens from there, but that’s what it is,” Manning said. “Everyone needs to continue to push forward, and everyone needs to pull their collective weight and do the things that we need them to do for our team to be successful.”
Michigan got things rolling first, as sophomore center Hunter Dickinson made a jumper in the paint only 14 seconds into the game. Maryland soon responded with baskets from Scott and Wahab but exhibited early struggles otherwise. The Terps committed 10 first-half turnovers, resulting in 12 points for the Wolverines.
It started with a turnover from Ayala that allowed Michigan freshman forward Moussa Diabate to convert an early layup and extend his team’s lead to three points (7-4).
“We also had way too many empty possessions in the first half in terms of turnovers,” Manning said.
But things quickly went from ugly to worse, as the Terps struggled to generate offense and contain Michigan. The Terps trailed, 39-19, at the end of the first half. Three Wolverines scored double-digit points, while Scott (10) was the only Terp to do so.
Manning attempted to establish some fight within his players, telling the Terps to go out and compete in the second half.
“It doesn’t change — it doesn’t matter which game, it doesn’t matter the score,” Manning said. “Compete, win the fight, take the battle to him. For us, go out and chase energy-generating behaviors, which give our team a chance to be successful.”
And the mentality seemed to work to a degree.
Maryland was able to generate more offense in the second half. Scott scored the Terps’ first points on a layup. Ayala found his rhythm as well, as he quickly responded with a 3-pointer of his own.
As Maryland fought to overcome a 19-point deficit, its veterans were the key. Ayala drilled his second deep shot of the night with about 15 minutes left in the game. He quickly followed that up with a layup and a free throw.
However, Maryland continued to trail by a large margin. Strong second-half performances from Ayala and Scott were not enough. As Ayala’s offense and energy reappeared, Dickinson only became stronger.
The Terps did not appear to have an answer for Dickinson, who was everywhere on the court. He finished the night with 21 points, six rebounds and six assists, with 16 of his points coming in the second half.
And Maryland’s horror story continued.
“First of all, no one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Manning said. “There are no pity parties for the Maryland basketball team when we pull up in the gym. Everybody’s going to try to pile on. And we understand that, and we’ve got to come out and we’ve got to put ourselves in a situation where we’re not allowing that to happen.
“We’ve got to make sure that we come out and the next day that we have practice, we’re locked in, we’re focused, we have effort, we have energy, we have juice like we have been having in practice, and then we carry that over at the start of the ballgame and run it throughout the ballgame.”
Only three Terps scored in double digits: Ayala (22), Scott (19) and freshman center Julian Reese (10). Hart and Russell combined for five points. Michigan scored 44 points in the paint compared to Maryland’s 24. Michigan also out-rebounded Maryland, 32-20.
Maryland’s schedule does not get any easier from here on out, as it will only face Big Ten teams for the remainder of the season, including some games against ranked opponents and star players. Something needs to change, and it needs to happen soon. Regardless, Maryland must continue to fight.
“It’s all about fighting, no matter what you do in life,” Scott said. “You’ve got a job, you’ve got to fight for a higher position. You’ve got basketball, you’ve got to fight for winning games every night. … You’ve got to fight for everything. I’m just trying to instill the fight in these guys because as long as we fight, it’s really hard to compete against us when we fight and we battle and that makes the game a lot easier.”
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