Free throw shooting struggles plague Maryland men’s basketball in Christmas Day loss at Purdue

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Trailing 72-70 with 18 seconds remaining, Maryland senior guard Darryl Morsell drove hard down the baseline to the basket and was fouled on his layup attempt. Morsell’s first free throw attempt rattled around and didn’t fall, while the second shot missed as well–a crushing blow to Maryland’s (5-3, 0-2 B1G) comeback attempt in its 73-70 loss against Purdue (7-3, 2-1 B1G). 

Those free throws were Maryland’s 10th and 11th misses of the game at the charity stripe, a key element in the loss. After Morsell’s missed free throws, the Terps had another opportunity to tie the game trailing by three with less than 20 seconds left. However, on Maryland’s final offensive possession, the Boilermakers played perfect perimeter defense. 

They eliminated the pick and pop between guard Eric Ayala and forward Donta Scott. That forced Ayala to settle for a deep contested three, which fell short of the basket and secured Maryland’s second consecutive loss to start conference play.

“The last possession offensively and the two missed free throws they add to it, but it’s not the reason we lost,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “It was one of those nights where you were just swimming uphill the whole game and we just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Scott was phenomenal for the Terps in the second half with 15 points, showing his offensive versatility to knock down threes and also take defenders off of the dribble. His resurgent second-half offensive performance wasn’t enough, as all afternoon the Boilermakers made timely shots, including 10 threes. 

The guard tandem of Eric Hunter Jr. and Brandon Newman spearheaded the Boilermakers attack with a combined 33 points, headlined by Hunter’s go-ahead layup with 38 seconds remaining. The Boilermakers prolific backcourt was pivotal in the victory as center Trevion Williams battled foul trouble throughout the game, playing just three minutes in the first half.

As a result of Williams’ absence for most of the first 20 minutes, the Boilermakers altered their offense attacking on the perimeter and playing through their guards. Over the course of a 4:16 stretch in the first half, Purdue shot six consecutive threes looking to swing the ball quickly on the perimeter. 

That strategy proved effective as the Boilermakers knocked down four of those shots, which helped them gain some separation extending the lead to 30-15. As the first half progressed, Maryland continued to chip away at the lead. 

Aaron Wiggins knocked down a three from the wing to cut the deficit to 37-28 with 1:42 remaining. Purdue went the final 3:38 of the first half without a field goal, but still maintained a double-digit advantage at the line due to its success at the charity stripe. In the first half, the Boilermakers converted 8-of-9 free throws, which helped counteract their offensive struggles down the stretch.

“We didn’t move the ball in the first half the way we need to move the ball,” Turgeon said.  

To start the second half, Turgeon utilized a different lineup with sophomore Chol Marial in at the center position. In his most impressive minutes of the season, Marial drew an early foul on Williams that sent him to the bench. After Williams was out of the game, the Terps put together a 12-2 stretch over the next 5:12 with their defense serving as the catalyst.

During that period, Wiggins and Morsell put together easy finishes, while Jairus Hamilton and Reese Mona each knocked down a triple that cut the deficit to 45-42 with 13:38 remaining. Mona provided tremendous energy on both ends of the floor for Maryland, giving the Terps a spark off of the bench. Shortly after a Jaden Ivey free throw, Hamilton knocked down another three, putting the Terps within one.

However, Purdue bounced right back with the timely shooting of Ivey. Entering Friday’s contest 1-9 from behind the arc, Ivey drilled back-to-back threes extending the Boilermakers’ lead to seven, providing an added cushion with 11:09 remaining. 

The remainder of the second half, both teams traded baskets like a heavyweight bout. After Purdue extended its lead to nine, Maryland bounced back, trimming the lead to 59-57 with 6:27 remaining keyed by Scott’s impressive offense. Yet, Purdue continued to respond with timely baskets by Williams and Newman to regain some added breathing room with less than five minutes remaining.

As they did all night long, the Terps continued to battle keyed by Scott and Ayala, their two most consistent scorers this season, cutting the deficit to one-possession several times. However, the lapses offensively in the first half compounded by struggles at the line were too much to overcome.

The three-point loss is a heartbreaker for the Terps, who won’t have long to reflect on the loss as they travel to Madison to take on No. 9 Wisconsin on Monday.

“I think we battled throughout the whole game, we started down early and we played hard,” Ayala said. “I think we’ll learn a lot from it.”