Throughout this season, the Maryland men’s basketball team has shown glimpses of promise — ending a losing streak against ranked teams on the road that had lasted for more than a decade and beating a few more top 25 programs at home. But the Terrapins still have struggled to break through against the teams at the very top of college basketball, fitting in better on the tier just below.
The difference between the two realms was evident again Sunday when the No. 17 Terps faced No. 9 Michigan and lost, 69-62, falling to 0-4 this season against opponents ranked in the top 10. Maryland had moments that showed potential, but the Terps also had a couple of long scoring droughts and could not consistently play at a high enough level to pull off the win.
Maryland took the lead for the last time on a Bruno Fernando jumper that made it 43-41 with 11:25 to play, but the Terrapins (21-9, 12-7 Big Ten) then went 4:50 without scoring and 7:46 without a field goal as the Wolverines (26-4, 15-4) took control.
In just over five minutes to close the game, Michigan made seven of its nine shots, and on both misses, the Wolverines grabbed the offensive rebound and scored.
“We were great defensively until about the five-minute mark,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Then I think they scored seven straight times against us. That was really the difference.”
Maryland pulled to within five points three different times in the final 90 seconds, but Michigan answered each time to keep the game out of reach.
Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis finished with a game-high 21 points for Michigan on 6-for-12 shooting, leading the shorthanded Wolverines to their first road win over a Big Ten team with a winning conference record. Michigan was playing without senior guard Charles Matthews, their third-leading scorer who missed his second consecutive game with an ankle injury, but all five Wolverines players who played at least 10 minutes scored in double digits. Zavier Simpson had 12 points and 10 assists, and the junior guard made all four of his hook shots.
“The kid makes the four skyhooks? Are you kidding me?” Turgeon said of Simpson. “One, I can get. But four? How terrific is he?”
Maryland trailed by only three with 5:41 to play when freshman forward Jalen Smith missed a pair of free throws. Brazdeikis hit a three-pointer on the other end on the next possession to push the Wolverines’ lead to six, quieting an Xfinity Center crowd that had been electric through most of the game, with students’ free T-shirts painting red, gold, black and white stripes around the arena.
Fernando notched a career-high six blocks to go with 12 points and 10 rebounds to lead Maryland. The Terps’ other four starters — Smith (11 points), Anthony Cowan Jr. (10), Eric Ayala (10) and Darryl Morsell (10) — also reached double digits.
Cowan, the team’s leading scorer, could not get much going offensively for most of the game. Seven of his 10 points came in the final three minutes. He and Fernando, the duo that usually power this Maryland team, combined to make just nine of their 28 shots.
“The other guys know that we’ve got to step up,” Morsell said. “We’re definitely not going to go away from per se like our bread and butter. We’re going to keep feeding them. The whole team, we trust in Bruno. The entire team, we trust in Anthony.”
Fernando said he felt like he got the shots he wanted, ones he usually makes, but they weren’t falling Sunday. Turgeon pointed out how a few of Cowan’s early attempts rolled in and out and maybe making a couple of those could have gotten him into a groove.
Smith hadn’t scored at least 10 points in any of the previous four games of his up-and-down freshman campaign, but the 6-foot-10 forward from Baltimore went on a personal 6-0 run early in the second half, scoring on three straight possessions and prompting Michigan to take a timeout after Maryland had turned a five-point deficit into a one-point lead.
“Jalen made some big-time plays,” Turgeon said. “I know he’s feeling better about himself. That’s a real positive moving forward.”
The Terps lost despite improving in two of the areas that had cost them games in the past — starting slowly and turning the ball over too many times. They committed just nine turnovers, the fewest they have had since Jan. 11. And Maryland had jumped ahead early with a pair of threes from Smith and Morsell. Though the Terps held Michigan scoreless for nearly the first three minutes and to 1-for-7 shooting to start, they never led by more than six.
Turgeon had said Saturday the team had talked about starting well, but after the improved beginning, Maryland closed the half poorly. Michigan went on a 12-2 burst over the final seven minutes of the half and took a 28-24 lead into halftime. Maryland missed eight straight shots and went almost six minutes without scoring during that span.
“We knew we would make a run in the second half, but we feel like we let a few plays slip away," Morsell said. "It should have been closer going into halftime.”
When these teams played 15 days earlier in Ann Arbor, Maryland let Michigan jump to a 14-point lead in the first seven minutes. Even though Maryland gave itself a chance with a better start Sunday, the Wolverines still prevailed with poise down the stretch. Maryland has lost two straight after a poor performance at Penn State on Wednesday, and now the team has just one more regular season game — against Minnesota on Friday — in which it can figure things out before the postseason.
“This is the time of the year we’ve got to stick together,” Fernando said. “We’ve got to keep working and just moving on. There’s a lot of the season left for us. We’ve still got a chance to do unbelievable things for us and our team and the program.”