The Maryland men’s basketball team marched into New York a motivated group, eyes locked on a possible National Invitational Tournament championship, the perfect validation for its recent resurgence.
Except the Terrapins were, behind the scenes, a wounded squadron of broken limbs, twisted knees and churning stomachs, barely able to field enough regulars for practice. Tack on a seven-day break that provided more harm than good, and Maryland’s season ended the way it began: with disappointment in the Big Apple.
Nearly five months after opening in Brooklyn against Kentucky, Tuesday’s 71-60 loss to Iowa under even brighter lights at Madison Square Garden saw the Terps regressing to their early, immature selves. A time may come when they reflect on a strong postseason run, on the wins over Duke, Denver and Alabama, among others, which gave the program 25 wins for the first time in over a decade.
But the somber group that encircled a massive New York Knicks logo inside Madison Square Garden late Tuesday night found no solace. They weren’t themselves against the Hawkeyes, or at least not the optimistic, collectivized team that showed up over the past month.
“Yeah, I think the seven-day break kind of hurt us,” guard Logan Aronhalt said after his last college game. “Because at this point, you really don’t want to practice anymore. You’re five months into the season. You just want to ball. It’s tough to say, ‘Okay guys, we’re going to take a seven-day break.’ When guys are injured and sick, it’s tough to do. That’s the thing that hurt us the most.
“We weren’t the team we’ve been the past six, seven games. We paid the price tonight, because they played really well. We never really found a rhythm. We kept fighting and cut the lead to five a couple times but never really could get that one more basket to give us the momentum we needed.”
Maryland cut an early 13-point lead to five by halftime, but never quite climbed over the hump. Each time it struggled to the peak, self-inflicted wounds sent the Terps tumbling back down the mountain. Three straight turnovers after a Nick Faust three-pointer allowed Iowa to take a 54-45 lead. Maryland later whittled it to 66-60, but Faust missed an off-balance runner with Jake Layman standing wide open in the corner. Forward Zach McCabe’s left-wing three-pointer clinched Iowa’s berth in Thursday’s title game against Baylor.
The effort was there, but the results lagged behind. Faust shot 5 of 14 from the field. Foul trouble limited Wells to just nine points, his lowest output since Feb. 23. Alex Len was solid around the rim, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds, but didn’t really get going until late in the second half. Iowa’s star guard Roy Devyn Marble was sensational, shooting 8 for 16 from the field and notching his fourth straight 20-point game.
“He had confidence,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Pe’Shon’s usually the guy who can guard them. I thought Pe’Shon did a nice job for them for a while. Then their other guys made plays. Shot clock going down, hitting shots, center hit one that looked like a shot put that went in. It was their night. It wasn’t ours. I keep saying it was amazing that we kept it as close as we did and competed until the end.”
Maryland’s walking wounded matched up poorly against a physical Hawkeyes team that scrapped on rebounds and dived for loose balls. The Terps, much like they did during that roller-coaster February stretch that punched their NIT ticket, were a step behind.
“All the free throws we missed, layups, it was amazing we kept it as close as we did,” Turgeon said.
Maryland committed 17 turnovers, mostly on traveling violations and barreling drives into the lane, which Iowa turned into 27 points. Wells and Len (twice) each missed opportunities to convert and-one baskets at the charity stripe. And Wells saw a 10-game double-digit scoring streak end thanks to foul trouble, his season finished on the bench after fouling out on an over-aggressive mistake with 2:22 left.
“We were just playing bad and they were just playing good,” Wells said, and really it was just that simple.