STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Maryland knows what it’s like to start slowly. These young Terrapins have maneuvered themselves out of early deficits throughout this season, sometimes even against upper-tier Big Ten opponents. But the hole had never been quite this deep, and the game had never seemed to run away from the Terps so quickly.
An abysmal start at Penn State on Wednesday night turned into a dreadful 40 minutes with few bright spots, and No. 17 Maryland fell, 78-61, against a Nittany Lions team that has now won just five conference games. Maryland finished with 17 turnovers, committing at least 15 for the fourth straight game, and the usually solid Terrapins defense let Penn State shoot 45.8 percent from the field.
“We’ve started poorly a lot, so I thought we’d respond, but we never really responded,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “… About the 10-minute mark, you knew we weren’t us tonight. And there was no fight in us. That was the disappointing part.”
As Penn State extended what had been a 22-point halftime lead early in the second half, Turgeon opted to substitute all five of his starters at once. In less than five minutes, the starting five had committed four turnovers, fouled twice and didn’t run back on defense. Turgeon had seen enough and sat the whole group.
“That was about all I could take,” Turgeon said. “I was just trying to find somebody that was going to play hard and play with a little energy in the game.”
Maryland (21-8, 12-6 Big Ten) trailed 49-24 at that point, the 15:31 mark. The deficit reached 29 before the five starters returned about two minutes later, and any improvement after they had been forced to sit was modest. Maryland got within 16 with about six minutes to go, but the Terps couldn’t climb any closer.
Freshman guard Eric Ayala described the performance by saying it looked as if the entire team had caught an “unsettling bug.”
“It’s kind of like a sickness,” Ayala said. “You just wake up one day, and you just have it, and you don’t know how to control it. We just had that today.”
Ayala said his coach wrote “play harder” on the locker room whiteboard at halftime, but by the 15-minute mark in the second half, Turgeon decided to treat the rest of the game as if it were a practice because a win was essentially out of reach.
Penn State (12-16, 5-12) lost its first 10 Big Ten games this season, but the Nittany Lions entered Wednesday’s game having won four of their previous six, including an upset victory over Michigan. And Happy Valley hasn’t treated the Terps well in the past: Maryland hasn’t won at Penn State since 2015.
Some of the issues that have haunted the Terps this year were on full display at Bryce Jordan Center, namely the turnovers. Maryland’s 17 giveaways were among the most in a game the season for a team that sits at the bottom of the conference in turnovers per game. Penn State scored 26 points off Maryland’s giveaways.
Junior forward Lamar Stevens, who is second in the Big Ten at nearly 20 points per game, scored 24 for Penn State on 9-for-17 shooting with Maryland freshman Jalen Smith guarding him most of the night.
Junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. led Maryland with 15 points, and freshman guard Aaron Wiggins reached double digits as well with 11. The team shot 51.9 percent from the field in the second half, a major improvement from the first half, but its miscues were too much to overcome. The lack of defensive stops, Cowan said, prevented Maryland from finding any sense of rhythm. The Terps played a bit better down the stretch, but that offered little solace on a night Penn State dominated most of the game.
“We didn’t look like ourselves at all tonight,” Cowan said. “We just couldn’t get it going.”
Maryland’s struggles began right away. The Terps missed 10 of their 12 field goal attempts before the first media timeout and committed two turnovers during that span. After both turnovers, one of which came on Maryland’s opening possession, Penn State hit three-pointers in transition. The Nittany Lions built a double-digit lead less than five minutes into the game.
But unlike at other times this season, the Terps didn’t show signs of a turnaround as the first half progressed. By halftime, Maryland had committed eight turnovers, four by sophomore forward Bruno Fernando (nine points, eight rebounds). The Terps made just 31 percent of their shots before halftime, including 1 of 10 from deep. Penn State outrebounded Maryland, usually a dominant force on the boards, and the Nittany Lions finished the half shooting 51.6 percent from the field.
Penn State freshman guard Myles Dread, who played at Gonzaga College High in the District, scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half, including three three-pointers. Twice, Maryland fouled Dread on three-point shots, and both times he hit 2 of 3 free throws.
Maryland’s last two regular season games will come at home, so the Terps will finish the year with a 5-5 road record in the Big Ten. Four of those wins came by double digits. Maryland won just two conference games in opponents’ gyms last season, but the improvement will feel like small consolation after ending this year’s road slate with such a disappointing effort.
“Hopefully this wakes us up a little bit,” Turgeon said. “It’ll be nice to go home. … We get some time to practice, get ready for postseason, but my guys have responded all year.”
Read more college basketball coverage;