Inability to protect the ball compounded by poor shooting dooms Maryland men’s basketball in loss at Penn State

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

With 2:54 remaining and Maryland (10-9, 4-8 B1G) trailing 53-48, Aaron Wiggins jumped into the passing lane, taking the pass away from Penn State (7-8, 4-7 B1G) guard Myreon Jones. Off of the steal, Wiggins ran in transition feeding Hakim Hart who missed the easy lay-up —which would’ve made it a one-possession game.

That sequence encapsulated Maryland’s offensive struggles throughout —particularly the final 7:32 where it went without a field goal in the 55-50 loss in State College. Maryland has now lost in Happy Valley five seasons in a row.

Eric Ayala was Maryland’s only consistent source of offense with 23 points, while Wiggins scored just two points on 1-11 shooting— uncharacteristic given his recent success offensively.

In addition to porous shooting, 35.4% overall and 17.1% from behind the arc, the Terps struggled to take care of the ball— an area where they’d improved recently.

“We turned the ball over too much throughout the entire game,” Darryl Morsell said. “Guards  have to work harder to get open for bigs. We have to take our time.”

While protecting the ball was a struggle, rebounding was also. Maryland was outrebounded 40-29 overall, as it surrendered 11 offensive rebounds. John Harrar led the Nittany Lions with 12 boards including, four on the offensive glass, all of which came in the second half.

“It really came down to the 16 turnovers and we couldn’t get a rebound in the second half,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “The 16 turnovers and the rebounds hurt us.”

Penn State entered Friday night’s contest leading the league in forced turnovers and Maryland appeared overwhelmed early. Before the first media timeout, Maryland committed five turnovers lacking fundamentals— struggling with the Nittany Lions speedy defense.

Those early turnovers allowed Penn State to jump out to an early 7-2 lead, but Maryland’s defense tightened up as the first half continued. The Nittany Lions missed nine shots in a row over a 5:38 span, while the Terps made six of nine shots during that span to retake the lead. 

That stretch showcased Maryland’s best offense of the game as it orchestrated a 12-0 run catalyzed by Ayala and Donta Scott. Both players used their craftiness to attack the basket drawing fouls and converting on three-point plays. At the conclusion of the run, the Terps led by nine and seemed poised to take control of the game.

However, the final 2:47 of the first half, Maryland couldn’t convert offensively going scoreless and committing three turnovers. Simultaneously, Penn State’s offense hit its stride with a 9-0 run keyed by Myles Dread and Isaiah Brockington. That run tied the score at 23 to conclude the first 20 minutes. 

The opening eight minutes of the second half was a back-and-forth affair, as neither team could establish an extended lead. However, Penn State changed that with a quick 7-0 burst, giving the Nittany Lions a 43-36 lead — their largest of the night. Turgeon quickly called timeout and the Terps responded with an 8-2 run that trimmed the lead to one.

With 7:32 remaining, Ayala converted a tough layup — which turned out to be Maryland’s last field goal of the night. The final seven and a half minutes is where Harrar really began to thrive for Penn State establishing himself inside and drawing fouls. 

While Harrar established himself down low, Dread knocked down a pivotal three off a curl play that extended the Nittany Lions lead to seven once again with 4:34 remaining. Before Dread’s three, Ayala had Harrar on an isolation, but chose to pass the ball to Hart who missed a shot later in the possession.

Maryland was in similar territory as against then-No. 24 Purdue on Wednesday trailing by seven with less than five minutes left. As it was all night the suffocating defense was there, but the timely shot making wasn’t. Between Hart’s aforementioned missed layup and Wiggins’s missed three, the Terps missed opportunities and couldn’t manage to cut down on the Nittany Lions lead.

“When you get steals, you should get layups and we missed a wide open three in front of our bench and a layup,” Turgeon said. The score would’ve been tied at 53, but we missed them. Then we get frustrated, guys get frustrated when they’re missing open looks. It’s frustrating for them, it’s frustrating for all of us.”

Ayala made it a one-possession game with 34.5 seconds left, but Jamari Wheeler, a 52.4% foul shooter on the season, knocked down two free throws that extended Penn State’s lead to 55-50 with 23 seconds remaining. As Maryland frantically tried to make a comeback on the ensuing possession, Ayala’s pass was stolen and the Terps’ struggles in Happy Valley continued.

“It’s just all about talking it out as a team and just getting back in the lab improving and getting ready for the next game,” Morsell said.