Maryland men’s basketball finally slipped, and it was to Big Ten rival Wisconsin in Madison. Its misstep arrived in a game in which the Terps continued to miss open shots, and eventually lose the flow of the offense. They were outdueled tonight, 64-59, as the target on their back finally got to them.
“I thought we had opportunities…we missed five free throws down the stretch, but I think we hurt ourselves because we didn’t take advantage of some of the opportunities where we had to,” Coach Kevin Willard said. “You have to give them a lot of credit for taking us out of our offense.”
The Terps got off to a tough start, struggling to shoot and take care of the ball early. Five minutes in saw them on the wrong side of a 9-4 score, with their five-point deficit serving as the most they’d been down in any game this season at any point. Missing each of their first five shots from three contrasted poorly as the opposing Badgers got off on the right foot.`
Wisconsin caught the Terps’ defense sleeping early, with ball movement and timely cutting, finding the chinks in their armor. Halfway through the first period, the Badgers had gone 9-14 from the field and 3-7 from three while Maryland continued to toss up bricks.
Backdoor cuts to the basket continued to hurt Maryland as the half slugged on. Wisconsin, meanwhile, covered for leading scorer Tyler Wahl’s relatively slow start, with Jordan Davis, Steven Crowl, and Chucky Hepburn hitting nine of their first ten combined shots to keep the Terps at arms’ reach.
With four minutes remaining, Maryland finally managed to piece together a scoring run. Julian Reese went up strong with his layups, and Donta Scott and Hakim Hart hit back-to-back long-distance bombs to pull the score to 27-23, courtesy of an 8-0 run. Out of the timeout, Jahari Long hit yet another to make it a one point game.
Maryland’s on-ball defense continued to impress, contributing to its late-half push. However, Wisconsin’s ball movement continued to confound the Terps, something they knew they had to assess going into the halftime break.
Don Carey hit a step-back three with under a minute left, tying the game at 29. On the other end, they gave up a bucket on an inbounds play to grant the Badgers one more bucket before time expired, and they entered the break leading 31-29.
The Terps finally had momentum but knew what they had to fix. They’d somewhat made up for a slow start but had still turned the ball over considerably more (7-2), and had been out-assisted (9-5).
It helped that the Badgers cooled off from distance; Maryland was 5-13 from three while Wisconsin had shot 3-12, as it’d missed their last five tries of the quarter.
The Terps didn’t take long to pull even, with Donta Scott collecting his third block on one end and bodying his way to the rim on the other. A Reese free throw a minute later got Maryland its first lead of the game, 33-32.
Turnovers continued to haunt Maryland, as it had racked up five more through eight minutes, but the second half saw a much more back-and-forth contest. The Terps had taken the rebounding advantage (24-20), but the Badgers continued to get to the line more. They only hit five of their first nine free throws, making up for Maryland only taking one attempt all game by then.
Connor Essegian hit a pair of threes off the bench, coinciding perfectly with Maryland missing ten straight shots from the field and going nearly eight minutes without a made field goal. Jahmir Young’s pair of free throws with five minutes left made him the first player on either team to hit double-digit scoring.
Once Wisconsin completed a 13-2 scoring run, the Terps finally found the bottom of the net. Young and Carey hit back-to-back threes once more, reminding everyone how hot and cold Maryland’s shooting tends to run.
Julian Reese sunk a pair of free throws to push the deficit to five, but the last minute largely turned into a free throw shooting contest. Jahmir Young’s quick three with 15 seconds left made things interesting, but Maryland’s late efforts wouldn’t be enough to save the Terps as they fell to Wisconsin, 64-59.
The Terps were doomed from shooting 3-18 to close the game, but they simply could not stop fouling the Badgers. Wisconsin shot 25 free throws compared to the Terps only taking 12, and Maryland failed to exploit their opponent missing nine.
Young still managed to squeeze out 17 points in this ugly outing, but Scott was shut down by the Badgers, going 3-14 from the field for nine points. He managed contributions elsewhere, scooping up 10 rebounds and blocking three shots, but Wisconsin’s team-wide scoring distribution prevailed.
“I felt like it was movement,” Jahmir Young guessed in relation to the Terps’ shooting struggles. “There wasn’t a lot because we weren’t moving.”
Maryland should shake this most recent outing off, as it looked worse than they had at any point this season. When their threes have missed, they’ve known how to make up for it on defense, and the Terps’ resilience will be tested against No. 7 Tennessee on Sunday in Brooklyn.