After a nightmarish start, Maryland men’s basketball fails to overcome Michigan State, 77-67

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Maryland men’s basketball just needed to see the ball go through the hoop. 

Everything went nearly perfectly for Michigan State on its senior night at East Lansing and the Terps needed something to quell the overwhelming tide of points and suffocating defense.

Eric Ayala buried five second half three-pointers and Fatts Russell initiated offense to cut the Spartans once 20-point lead down to just three, but that was the closest the Terps would get. 

Maryland (15-16, 7-13 B1G) had fight for 30 minutes of the contest, but the first 10 minutes created a hole that was too deep to escape, resulting in a, 77-67, loss to Michigan State (20-11, 11-9 B1G) and an under .500 finish to the regular season. 

“I’m very happy with the hearts of the game in terms of showing some toughness and grit and fighting back,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “We have to make sure we don’t put ourselves in that situation moving forward. It’s just too big of a hole to overcome.”

With alley-oops and a shower of threes on one end and a bevy of contested shots and air-tight lane defense on the other, the Spartans 11-0 start to the game spelled disaster and interim head coach Danny Manning needed to burn a timeout just three minutes into the game. 

However, aside from one trip to the line that granted Hakim Hart a single point, Maryland couldn’t find a point from the floor until the 11 minute mark of the first half. An, 18-3, deficit courtesy of a fortuitous Julius Marble shot-clock buzzer-beater and a nifty Malik Hall fadeaway jumper in duress, was when Maryland would begin opening up the scoring column. 

After Hart’s fastbreak layup, Maryland promptly chipped away at the double-digit lead, putting points on the board, showing the same resolve it showed all season. Ten minutes after the Terps’ first field goal, Russell cleaned up a broken play to cash in Maryland’s first three-pointer after the first 13 attempts rimmed out. 

Still down 20, 46-26, entering halftime in spite of the unrelenting climb back effort, Maryland had plenty more to offer in the 20 minutes that remained.   

“The message was we had to do a better job of winning the fight,” Manning said of his conversation to his team at the halftime break. “ … we talked about: ‘Let’s make sure we give ourselves a chance by being in the fight.” 

The message was received by, at least, Ayala who started Maryland’s second half opening 10-0 run with a corner three-pointer — his first of five in the second half. The Terps’ veteran followed his first up with a heat-check three-pointer on a fastbreak drive — a product of his steal on the Spartans possession. 

The Spartans responded with a 10-0 run of their own to reclaim the 20-point lead and Maryland answered back with a 19-4 run to cut the lead to a reasonable, 61-58, scoreline.  

“That’s how it has to be to start the game off,” Russell said. “You can’t have started the game off 18-1 in the opposing team building.”

Ayala banged triples on three consecutive scoring possessions and finished with 17 second half points, and Russell, who finished with 16, got to the line and helped lift the offense into decent scoring positions. Unfortunately for Maryland, the Spartans had a hungry group of seniors and a crowd behind them, while the Terps’ energy waned. 

Malik Hall and Gabe Brown combined to score the last 14 of 16 points in the closing period to put Maryland away and stave off the comeback effort, while Maryland, once again, was left to with a scoreline that showed it had fought, but failed to finish the job.