ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Through the first 20 minutes Saturday afternoon at Crisler Center, the Maryland Terrapins’ offense appeared lifeless against Michigan’s suffocating defense. Their stars couldn’t score. They continued to commit turnovers, allowing the Wolverines to build a comfortable lead.
When the teams returned from halftime, Maryland’s offense emerged and the Terps made their first six shots, all of which came from Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando, the team’s leading scorers who had combined for just two points in the first 20 minutes.
But each time Maryland started to trim Michigan’s lead, which was as small as three points with 10:21 to go, the No. 6 Wolverines responded, sometimes with the help of Maryland’s self-destruction. The No. 24 Terps could never overcome their slow start and fell, 65-52, dropping Coach Mark Turgeon’s record at Maryland to 0-19 against ranked teams on the road.
When Maryland trailed by five with just less than seven minutes left, Cowan missed a layup and Turgeon watched his team deflate defensively. Michigan hit a three-pointer and could have had another if Isaiah Livers hadn’t missed his open shot.
“To me, that was the game,” Turgeon said. “It’s life. You miss the layup. Could have cut it to three and the next two possessions, we don’t run [back on defense]. Livers missed one in the corner for us. We weren’t within 20 feet of him. That was the disappointing thing for me.”
After that, the game slipped away from the Terps (19-7, 10-5 Big Ten). Their 52 points were a season low.
Turgeon critics point to his teams’ inability to beat ranked opponents on the road. Beyond his drought with Maryland, Turgeon never beat a ranked team on the road during his four-year tenure at Texas A&M, making his most recent win under those circumstances in December 2006 at No. 15 Syracuse, when he coached Wichita State.
Of the 75 programs in the six power conferences, Oregon State is the only one that has gone longer than Maryland without a road win over a ranked team. The Terrapins have had some success on the road this season, winning four Big Ten games by double digits, but they are still looking for a marquee road victory.
Even though the Terps generated hope late in the game that maybe they would finally buck the trend, they had to play catch-up all day after another slow start. About five minutes into the game, Michigan had a 12-point lead, which the Wolverines extended to 15 with 9:35 to go in the first half.
Maryland had 13 turnovers in the first half and then some critical miscues and ill-advised shots down the stretch in the second, eliminating the chance of a comeback against the Wolverines (23-3, 12-3).
The Terps shot 4 for 19 from the field to start the game, and at one point in the first half they had more turnovers (11) than points (10).
“They got up to play, and we didn’t,” Cowan said of his team’s early-game issues.
Freshman Aaron Wiggins helped Maryland stay in the game, tying his career high with 15 points. The Terps’ only blip of promise in the first half came when Wiggins hit back-to-back three pointers to keep Michigan from running away.
“We’ve just got to have better energy coming out, be mentally in the game, be prepared,” Wiggins said. “Coach did a really good job this past week preparing us for the game. We just came out here and we didn’t translate; we didn’t bring it onto the court with us with the same energy and positive attitude.”
Even in its emphatic win over No. 12 Purdue on Tuesday, Maryland started the game by missing seven straight shots and trailed the Boilermakers by eight at halftime before mustering an impressive second-half surge. When asked what his team needs to do to avoid slow starts, Turgeon said, “If I had an answer, I’d fix it.”
On Saturday, Maryland trailed by nine at halftime — a seemingly small margin given the team’s 29.2 percent shooting and its turnover woes. Turgeon said he felt lucky to be down only by that much at halftime.
“Oh my God, to be down nine, are you kidding me?” he said. “Against this team in this building — [I] told the team that. They responded. We played much better. We just couldn’t guard them.”
After a scoreless first half, Fernando began the second with six points in five minutes, helping fuel the turnaround, and finished with 12 points. Fernando, guarded by 7-foot-1 forward Jon Teske, struggled early and headed to the locker room with no points on 0-for-4 shooting.
“He let his offense affect his defense,” Turgeon said of Fernando’s first-half performance. “We were playing four-on-five out there defensively, and Bruno’s been one of our best defenders. That was the most disappointing thing. I can handle missing jump hooks, but you’ve got to bring it at the other end.”
In Maryland’s previous six games, Cowan shot 31.7 percent, compared with his season-long 40.1 percentage. He still hasn’t returned to his normal self, but the junior guard reached double figures with 10 points Saturday and had back-to-back three-pointers during Maryland’s optimistic burst after halftime.
But when Michigan’s lead started to shrink, the Wolverines responded and Maryland didn’t. On one late-game possession, the Terps missed three open three-pointers. During this late stretch, the Terps helped Michigan seal the game, but they had already started to give it away early on when they handed Michigan uncontested layups and couldn’t hold onto the ball.
“The obvious is we built too big of a hole,” Turgeon said. “Against a great team, you can’t do that.”