There was enough turnover in the past week to prompt serious change, but things were still the same for Maryland men’s basketball.
Hakim Hart had the type of outing that looked to keep his squad afloat. The type of individual scoring performances this year’s offense has depended on. And although his game-high 18 points were impressive enough to make this contest competitive, the performance is not sustainable for winning basketball. And it certainly wasn’t enough for a win Sunday afternoon.
On Sunday, the shots still weren’t falling at a reasonable rate, the offense had no direction and the pace just was not where it needed to be to keep up with a unit as fast as Northwestern. It all culminated in a 67-61 loss that marked the beginning of a new era of Maryland basketball.
Mark Turgeon left, but all of the offensive struggles that have exemplified the 2021 season stayed — even as interim head coach Danny Manning patrolled the sidelines.
“[We] didn’t play well enough,” Manning said, “We shared this with our young men: Nobody’s gonna feel sorry for us. We got to figure out a way when we get out there. And Hakim gave us a chance in terms of offensively making shots.”
The single-man offense has quickly turned into the norm for Maryland in its past few games — especially against more competitive opponents. First with Donta Scott’s thorough offensive play against George Mason, then Hart’s game-high 24 points that thrusted Maryland past Richmond in the Bahamas and, most recently, Qudus Wahab’s first half, low-post masterclass that kept Maryland alive against Virginia Tech.
The question of who would step in and take that leading role was answered immediately. Hart was the first, and only, to convert multiple field goals for over 20 minutes of play — his opening three followed by a putback layup put Maryland on the board. Hart’s five points to open the contest were the only points Maryland had for nearly the entire opening 10 minutes of the half as the Wildcats jumped to an, 11-5, lead.
Hart also opened the final half with another set of five points. This time it was a slashing layup followed by a three. In between the five point bursts, Maryland wavered offensively and struggled to eclipse a 30% average from the field. The Terps also made the mistake of granting the Wildcats, who average a staggering 80 points per contest, extra possessions with a generous amount of turnovers.
Maryland gave up eight turnovers in the first half and six in the second — a 14 turnover total on par with its 13 per game average.
Hart was the lifeline of the Maryland offense in the first 20 minutes. And his team-high 11 points at the break, that included three three-pointers along with fairly stout defense, was enough to allow Maryland to enter halftime with just a 27-30 deficit.
“[Northwestern] was playing zone a little bit and I was getting to my spots and my teammates was just finding me and I happened to make shots at the time,” Hart said.
As the second half began, it seemed as though Hart’s success would continue. But after his five point run, he managed to get just two more points before the end of the half. His fellow starters got involved, though. And Scott was the first Maryland player to hit his second field goal three minutes into the final half. But the turnover mark and low field goal percentage proved to be far too overwhelming. Ayala, Scott, Wahab and Fatts Russell combined for 37 points, shooting 8-29 from the field.
“There’s always a little luck involved,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said, “… with Ayala and Scott. You know, those guys got some good looks maybe they normally make but they missed.”
Northwestern shot a much more respectable 43% from the field and the lack of an offense doomed Maryland for the third straight game.