Turnover issues and scoring droughts bury Maryland basketball in first loss of the season

Turnovers had not been an issue this season so far for Maryland basketball. Entering Tuesday night’s matchup, the Terps averaged 11.4 turnovers per game and forced an average of 14.7 per game. Their opponents, Penn State, came into the game forcing opponents to turn the ball over an average 16 times per game. Therefore, Tuesday night was a flip of the script. The Terps turned the ball over a season-high 20 times, including 13 in the first half, plaguing them in the 76-69 loss.

“We wanted to lead the country in dribbling tonight, we had the most dribbles,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We tried to beat 3 or 4 guys instead of getting in the paint and pitching it.”

The first four minutes were marked by an offensive onslaught, with both teams attacking the basket at will. Easy buckets in the paint followed. Guard Eric Ayala scored seven early points for Maryland, including 11 of the team’s first 17. 

Things went downhill soon, though. The ensuing three minutes, Maryland struggled to take care of the ball — with six turnovers due to stagnation and over dribbling. While the Terps were making poor decisions, they also fell victim to Penn State’s speedy guards and active hands in passing lanes. Maryland’s struggles offensively allowed Penn State to build an early 20-10 after just nine minutes.

Later in the first half, guard Anthony Cowan Jr. cut the Penn State lead to five on a deep triple, but the Nittany Lions bounced back with a 6-0 burst of their own to extend the lead to 33-22. Guard Darryl Morsell cut the Penn State lead to seven with 20 seconds remaining in the first half. Just when it seemed Maryland started gaining some momentum, a fading buzzer-beating corner three from guard Myreon Jones put the Nittany Lions ahead by 10 at the break. Penn State converted 17 points off the Terps’ 13 first half turnovers, pushing the pace for easy transition opportunities. 

In addition to creating easy fast break opportunities, Penn State established a strong paint presence in the first half — outscoring the Terps 22-8 in that area. Center Mike Watkins, the Nittany Lions’ anchor down low, scored eight points. The backcourt also had a profound impact. Guard Myles Dread beat the Terps from the perimeter with ten points. Both Jones and Dread compiled two steals each in the first half, reading the passing lanes.

Maryland improved their ball security at the start of the second half and began to lock in defensively. Aaron Wiggins knocked down a three with 16:02 remaining, cutting the Nittany Lions’ lead to 44-39. However — as they did all night long — when Maryland got close Penn State executed a 5-0 run of their own to increase the lead to double digits once again.

Maryland continued to battle and put forth their best run beginning with 11:47 remaining when Morsell knocked down a three from straight on. Less than a minute later, Cowan knocked down a triple of his own cutting the deficit to 52-50, the closest the Terps had been since they trailed 11-10. 

It appeared the Terps were on the verge of retaking the lead, but once again the turnover bug plagued Maryland, setting up easy opportunities for Penn State. First, Watkins threw down an emphatic slam off forward Makhi Mitchell’s turnover. Next, guard Izaiah Brockington scored off a Cowan turnover, making it 58-50.

With 7:22 remaining and Maryland needing a spark, Cowan drilled another three, cutting the Penn State lead to five once again. After Cowan knocked down a pair at the line with 5:58 remaining it seemed once again as though the Terps were going to pull off a comeback. 

However, less than a minute later, Brockington put Penn State back up by six knocking down a tough three from the corner, despite tight defense from Morsell. The contested three seemed to deflate Maryland’s energy, as the Terps didn’t score another field goal for six and a half minutes.

During that stretch, Maryland struggled to generate good looks at the rim due to the Nittany Lions’ quick defensive rotations and closeouts. While executing on a high level on the defensive end of the floor, Penn State stepped up on offense, hitting some tough shots. Forward Lamar Stephens, the team’s leading scorer, converted on a tough fadeaway jumper over Ricky Lindo Jr. to give the Nittany Lions a commanding 77-69 lead with 2:48 to go.

Ultimately, down the stretch, Penn State executed at a higher level on both ends of the floor, while Maryland struggled to make open shots. Both the high turnover number and an inability to execute down the stretch were uncharacteristic of the 2019-20 Terps — and Penn State punished their mistakes.

Turgeon and his staff will have plenty of time to make the necessary corrections, with nine days of rest until their next battle, at No. 22 Seton Hall in another tricky away test.

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